IRS explains how to file returns to receive economic impact payments

By Sally P. Schreiber, J.D.

The IRS announced two procedures for taxpayers who normally do not file a federal tax return to file returns to receive the economic impact payments (Rev. Proc. 2020-28). Under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, P.L. 116-136, eligible individuals will receive an economic impact payment of up to $1,200 for individuals or $2,400 for married couples. Parents also receive $500 for each qualifying child.

The first procedure is a simplified procedure for eligible individuals who voluntarily wish to file a federal income tax return only to receive allowed economic impact payments. These eligible individuals are encouraged to use the “Non-Filers: Enter Payment Info Here” tool so they can receive their payment much quicker than if they filed a paper return. The instructions for the simplified filing method contain line-by-line guidance and require, if applicable, the individual to provide information about any dependents who may qualify for the additional $500 payment. The procedures also permit taxpayers to file a paper 2019 return to claim the payments if they wish, instead of electronically.

The second procedure is for taxpayers who have zero adjusted gross income (AGI) and want to file electronically and who use tax return preparation software or otherwise need to provide more detail in filing state or local tax returns than that allowed by the simplified procedure. A “zero AGI filer” has zero AGI for the 2019 tax year (that is, the eligible individual has zero AGI for 2019 reportable on line 8b of Form 1040, U.S. Individual Income Tax Return, or Form 1040-SR, U.S. Tax Return for Seniors) and has not yet filed a 2019 federal income tax return. In addition, a zero AGI filer must have a Social Security number (SSN) that is valid for employment or file a joint return with an individual who has an SSN that is valid for employment if one of the joint return filers was a member of the U.S. armed forces at any time during 2019. Despite having no AGI, a zero AGI filer for these purposes must enter $1 amounts for taxable interest, total income, and AGI on the return.

These alternative returns must be filed by Oct. 15, 2020, so the IRS can make the payments before the end of 2020 as required under the CARES Act. Both procedures require signatures under penalties of perjury. 

For more news and reporting on the coronavirus and how CPAs can handle challenges related to the pandemic, visit the JofA’s coronavirus resources page.

For tax-related resources, visit the AICPA’s Coronavirus (COVID-19) Tax Resources page.

Sally P. Schreiber, J.D., ( is a JofA senior editor.


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