If you’ve noticed an extra something in your bank account lately — like an extra $600 stimulus check that’s been sitting idle — you might be wondering: what’s the best way to use this check and are there any strings attached?
Should you spend it all on hand sanitizer, masks, takeout food, and heated bidets? Windfalls like these aren’t super common, so it’s good you’re asking these questions. And the answer is yes — there are ways to get the most out of your $600 stimulus check.
It all depends on your specific financial needs, and what would make the biggest difference for you. Here are some of the smartest ways to use your stimulus check.
Pay Off Overdue Bills
If you’re overdue on your bills, the first thing to do is get right-side up again. The most important bills to pay off are the ones you need to keep you sheltered. Your housing payment is an important part of this. And right now, there’s a moratorium on many evictions and foreclosures.
If the security of your home isn’t under threat at the moment, paying off non-protected bills, like electricity, heat, and water, is an option.
Although paying off overdue bills helps to get creditors off your back, there’s another big reason why you should do this first. Your credit score is harmed when creditors mark your account as overdue, and that information stays on your report for up to seven years. The damage a late payment does also depends on how late it is, so the sooner you pay it off, the less you’ll have to overcome later.
If you’re not able to pay off all your bills with your stimulus check (which might be entirely possible if you’re behind on rent, for example), it’s important to chat with your landlord or mortgage banker and make a repayment plan. You can also seek out local support services, which you can get help finding from 211.org.
Start An Emergency Fund
If you don’t yet have a fully-funded emergency fund (usually defined as three to six months’ worth of expenses), or if your emergency fund took a bit of a hit lately, now might be a good time to beef it back up.
We don’t yet know how bad the pandemic will actually get. Right now, it seems like the light is at the end of the tunnel with the vaccinations slowly rolling out. Even so, one thing’s for sure: this will affect us for years, and so it’s best to get prepared now, if you’re able.
Take Care of Any Repairs or Healthcare You’ve Put Off
When times are tough it’s easy to put off things like getting your car’s oil changed, replacing the filters in your home, or getting that weird mole on your back looked at. But left unchecked, these small things can turn into bigger problems down the road.
If you’re up to date on your bills and your emergency fund is in tip-top shape, the next thing to consider is getting any repairs done. That includes things you own like your home or your car, but also health visits for you and your family.
Pay Down High-Interest Debt
Some financial gurus seem to think high-interest debt is an emergency situation. And while it can be (if your debt payments are higher than your income, for example), it’s really not for most people.
That doesn’t mean it’s a good thing to have, though. High-interest debt is a drag that keeps you from moving forward in your financial journey. So if you’re safe and you’re secure, cutting off that drag a little bit more can let you start making progress faster toward your other goals. You can use a debt calculator to see exactly how much it’ll help, even with a one-time $600 payment.
How to Get Out of Debt
Spend It With Local Small Businesses
There are no strings attached with your stimulus check. But if you’ve got everything else covered, it’s a good idea to consider spending your stimulus check with local, small businesses rather than an Amazon shopping spree.
After all, the “stimulus” in “stimulus check” is meant to stimulate the economy in these challenging times. Buying products and services within your local community acts as a multiplier effect. It not only helps you, but it supports the business owner, their employees, and the people they source their materials from, too.
Consider buying local with businesses like these:
- Grocery stores
- Independent bookstores
- Microbreweries and distilleries
- Buying gift cards for businesses you might not use right now, like hair salons and auto repair shops
Finally, if you’re financially secure, another option to consider is donating the money. This is a much more impactful way to use your stimulus, since a lot of places aren’t seeing the funds they need to carry out their important work right now. You can donate to any charity, but it’s also an especially good time to consider any local COVID relief charities.
Donating your money might not directly benefit you per se, but it’ll impact your community for the better. If we all come out stronger after this, then we can lean on our community when we need help, too.
What If I Haven’t Gotten My Check Yet?
The latest $600 stimulus was officially paid out on January 4, 2021. If you haven’t seen the money show up yet either in the form of a direct deposit or a paper check, it could be for these common reasons:
- You recently changed banks
- You recently moved to a new home
- You aren’t eligible for the payment because you earned too much in 2019
You can use the IRS Get My Payment tool to see where your payment is, if you’re eligible for one. If you haven’t gotten your stimulus check yet for the first two reasons (moving homes, or moving banks), you can request a payment trace on the IRS website.
You might also need to claim your stimulus payment as a tax credit when you file your 2020 tax return. This means you’ll still get the money, but you might not get it right away, unfortunately.
Finally, not everyone is eligible for the payment. To qualify, you can’t be claimed as a dependent by someone else. You’ll also need to stay under certain income thresholds, as reported on your 2019 tax return. If you earn more than that, your payment amount is scaled back until it eventually tapers off. Above a certain point, you’re not eligible for any sort of payment.
You qualify for the full $600 stimulus if you earn less than…
You qualify for a reduced stimulus if you earn between…
You don’t qualify for any stimulus if you earn more than…
Single $75,000 $75,001 to $86,999 $87,000
Head of Household $112,500 $112,501 to $124,499 $124,500
Married, Filing Jointly $150,000 $150,001 to $173,999 $174,000
What do I do with my stimulus check?
You can use your stimulus check any way you want — there are no strings attached. You can save it or spend it however you see fit.