US Senators recently approved President Biden’s $1.9 trillion Covid relief package, part of which includes a new round of stimulus checks for eligible Americans. But what if you’re an expat living abroad? As an expat, are you eligible for the $1,400 stimulus check? If so, how can you go about cashing in your stimulus check? I’ll do my best here to key you in on what you need to know in order to get your hands on the $1.4K everyone’s talking about.
Essentially, if you make $75,000 a year or less, or you and your spouse jointly make $150,000 a year or less, you could be eligible for the full $1,400 stimulus check (or $2,800 for married couples). Individuals making more than $80,000 and married couples making over $160,000 a year won’t be eligible for this third round of stimulus checks. If all goes according to plan, and you’re eligible, you should expect to receive your stimulus check by the end of March, even taking into account potential delays due to tax season being in full swing.
If you’re eligible for a stimulus check, the amount you’ll be getting will be largely predicated on either your 2019 or 2020 tax return, depending on which one is the most recent one the IRS has on file. So if you made less in 2020 than you did in 2019, for whatever reason, then you’ll want to make sure you file your taxes as soon as possible if you want to make sure you qualify for the full stimulus payment. This is especially important if you dropped below the $75,000 threshold in 2020. You’ll definitely want to have that reflected with the IRS if you want to qualify for the payment. If, on the other hand, you made more in 2020 than you did in 2019, you may want to wait until after the checks go out to file your taxes this year. That way, you could maximize the amount you get, just make sure you file your taxes on time. Luckily, the expat tax filing deadline is June 15th, a little later than for Americans living Stateside.
Also, if your income is close to the $75,000 threshold, then you’ll want to make sure you claim the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion when you file your taxes as an expat, if you’re not already. The FEIE can reduce your adjusted gross income and perhaps get you below the threshold and make you eligible for the stimulus check, even if your total income is above the threshold.
Because you’re an expat, you’ll need to make sure you have direct deposit set up with the IRS so the stimulus can be sent directly to your bank account. Getting your hands on the stimulus money can obviously get way more complicated for you as an expat if you’re relying on the IRS to snail mail you a physical paper check or debit card. Not to mention, you’d be waiting quite a bit longer to get a physical check or card in the mail than you’d have to wait for a direct deposit into your bank account.
If you don’t already have direct deposit set up with the IRS, then you may be able to do so this time around through its Get My Payment tool. If not, alternatively you can select direct deposit through the tax prep software you use to file your taxes online. Once you’ve got your US bank account information shared with the IRS and set up for direct deposit, you can just sit back and wait for the money to come in – provided you’re eligible for the stimulus, of course.
Keep in mind that whenever you do anything online that involves sending and receiving sensitive personal and financial data – say, things like online banking, filing taxes, setting up direct deposit with the IRS to get your stimulus check, and so on – you’ll need to make sure that you take the necessary precautions to protect your data from ending up in the wrong hands. A virtual private network (VPN) is an easy to use and affordable piece of software that will work to encrypt your internet connection, so you’ll be able to completely hide everything you do online from hackers, data thieves, government agencies, internet service providers, and anyone else looking to snoop on what you get up to online.
When you connect to a VPN server, everything you transmit and receive online is fully encrypted and, therefore, protected from being exposed to any unauthorized party. So, you can safely check on your stimulus check, file your taxes, and manage your finances in the US from abroad without any fear of having any of your data compromised or stolen by a cybercriminal. This is especially pertinent for you as an expat who may not always have access to secure private Wi-Fi networks when going online. As an expat, you may often be out and about and relying on public Wi-Fi networks at cafes, in hotels, in airports, or on trains, for instance. Because of this, you’ll absolutely need a VPN to keep your data fully protected on public Wi-Fi networks that can be dangerously unsecure, particularly if you’re accessing your US bank account from abroad.
The great news for you as an American expat is that you may very well be eligible to benefit from the stimulus and have the opportunity to cash in yourself if you qualify. If you’re eligible, you can still get your stimulus check, even from abroad. Just make sure you set up direct deposit with the IRS so your check will automatically show up in your US bank account, and make sure to use a VPN to protect your sensitive data whenever you’re accessing your bank account and managing your finances online, especially from public Wi-Fi networks.
As an expat, you have to be vigilant about many things, and protecting your data online is definitely one of those things. Go ahead and cash in your stimulus check, but remember that it should be benefitting you, not cybercriminals, so make sure to proceed with caution and protect what’s yours by encrypting your data with a VPN.