Even before the stimulus bill passed, sites were cropping up in droves, promising to help you get your share of the government’s money. (Ads for them will probably pop on this article, please don’t click.) The truth is, there is no stimulus check coming this year. And while the government does give money, it’s not just giving it away for no good reason.
No stimulus check? But I heard that we were getting $400!
Most of us are (if you earn more than a certain amount it gets phased down). But this year the stimulus isn’t a check. Instead, the Making Work Pay provision of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act “provides eligible individuals with a refundable tax credit of $400 ($800 for married couples filing jointly) each year for 2009 and 2010. The government is providing this tax credit by reducing the amount of federal tax withheld from your paycheck from March 20 to December 31, 2009” (quoted from a handout I got from my Payroll Dept).
So the stimulus is getting more of your own money as you earn it instead of getting a rebate, as it were, all at once.
What about stimulus money if I bought a house?
If you were a first-time homebuyer sometime after April 8, 2008 or plan to be until Dec 1, 2009, then you are also eligible for a tax credit (up to $7500 in 2008 and up to $8000 in 2009). This should be in your tax software, or you can use IRS Form 5405 if you’re paper filing. Don’t give personal information to websites or pay even a small processing fee to have them get this for you, it’s part of doing your taxes. If you need help, talk to a CPA or someone at a tax prep center.
If you purchased your first home between April 8, 2008 and Jan 1, 2009, your tax credit will be something you have to pay back over the next 15 years in your taxes. The 2009 one will not have to be repaid.
So I really can’t get government grant money?
Nope. If you’re an artist, researcher, etc, who applied through legitimate channels (don’t Google a website, go to your library for info) for a government grant, then yes you might. If you’re anyone else—the U.S. government may be playing fast and loose with our tax dollars, but they’re not that fast and loose. If you want to get money out of them for BS reasons, you’ll have to put in the work of scamming them, they’re not going to proposition you.
According to Snopes most of these scams operate by charging you a “small” amount for something that never arrives (grant money, grant information, etc). In the best case scenario, you’re out $50, $250, something like that. Worst case, they use your financial information to steal more from your account (this is why giving out bank routing and account info is a very bad idea). This scam is very much like the classic Nigerian (419) scam. You pay a small amount to the scammer in hopes of receiving a huge amount. It never works.
These scams are being marketed through dozens of websites, on television ads (I’ve heard, I don’t watch much television), and even by phone. The Snopes article includes a conversation someone had with a scammer who was trying to get his financial information and, at the least, take $257 to “process” the grant.
Times are tough and desperate people are falling for these in hopes that taking a chance will pay off. But don’t. Just don’t. “Taking a chance” that one of these (and the one you pick) will be the only golden opportunity in a pile of manure will lose you some money at best. At worst, you may lose a LOT of money. If you’re in desperate financial straits, you can’t afford to lose that money.
So no, the U.S. government is not offering stimulus checks, grants, or random money to random people for random reasons. There are two tax credits that you may be eligible for from this stimulus, and they’re part of doing your taxes, not something you have to do on the side.
Protect your financial information
And while I’m at it, don’t give out credit card numbers, account numbers, routing numbers, etc, to anyone who calls or e-mails you. Don’t leave them in public blog comments (dear God please don’t, we bloggers don’t want any responsibility if someone steals them before we can delete…and we don’t want to know them).
Only give out financial information if you’re initiating the transaction–buying something online, ordering over the phone, setting up a transfer between bank accounts, setting up direct deposit at work. Even if you’re ordering something over the phone, it’s safer to call the real company back (using 3rd party information) than to give your financial information to a telemarketer–you don’t know who they really are.