**Updated on 03/23/21 to reflect accurate links, dates, and information**
This guide will walk you through the process of applying for your stimulus money. It also contains useful resources for obtaining the documents you need to apply, as well as information about where to cash it free of charge without a bank account.
In March, President Biden signed the America Rescue Plan, a $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill that makes it possible for the majority of U.S. citizens to receive a one-time payment of $1,400 (or more if you have children).
While many will soon receive their stimulus checks without taking any extra steps, you might be wondering: “How do I get that money the government promised me?”
If you do not automatically receive your payment via direct deposit or in the mail, this guide will help point you in the right direction. It will also walk you through the process of depositing stimulus checks free of charge.
Note: If you are receiving Supplemental Security Income or State Disability Insurance, your Economic Impact Payment will arrive automatically through whatever means you receive your benefits. There are a few reasons you might not have received your stimulus payment even if you are receiving these services (for example, you may not automatically receive your Economic Impact Payment if you only started getting these benefits after a certain date). For more information about this, you can call Bay Area Legal Aid’s legal advice hotline: (800) 551-5554.
Getting your stimulus check
If the following describes you, you may need to sign up online in order to get your stimulus check:
- You are a U.S. citizen, a permanent resident, or a ” U.S. resident alien” with a social security number. (If you are not a U.S. citizen, scroll to the bottom of this article for a list of mutual aid resources for undocumented people in the Bay Area.)
- You have a Social Security number.
- You are a “non-filer,” meaning you haven’t filed a tax return in the last two years because you did not earn enough income.
- Your annual income is under $75,000. If you are married and filing jointly, the threshold is $150,000. (Note: if you made less than $75,000 in 2020 and have not yet filed your taxes, filing your taxes will ensure you get your stimulus payment quickly and easily.)
- Unlike the first two rounds of stimulus money, adult dependents of U.S. taxpayers are now eligible to receive the $1,400 payments. This time, that includes people 17 and up.
The IRS has closed the form that non-filers used to access their stimulus money in 2020. Instead of using that form, they are now asking all non-filers to fill out a simplified tax return to receive stimulus money. This simplified tax return is due on May 17th (this deadline was recently extended). Scroll to the bottom of this article for a list or organizations that can help you file a simplified tax return.
Once you have collected all the information below, you will be ready to fill out the simplified tax return, which will help ensure that you receive your $1,400 check. That form can be found here.
Here’s what you’ll need.
First, you will need your Social Security number.
If you do not have your Social Security number, you will need a government issued ID and a mailing address to request a new card from the Social Security Administration. This task can be accomplished online. (Note: You don’t need an ID to file federal taxes, but you may need an ID to replace your social security card. If you need help getting a mailing address, or a government issued ID, scroll to the bottom of this article.)
Next, you need to access the IRS website.
You will need access to a smartphone or computer with an internet connection in order to access the IRS website. The IRS is accepting paper forms, but recommends non filers use their free tax filing service to speed up processing.
Even though most libraries are currently closed, you can still connect to the internet outside most libraries when sitting outside. Certain cellphones are also able to produce wifi hotspots.
You will also need an email address.
You will need an email address in order to make an account on the IRS website. Your account will allow you to check on the status of your payment after you’ve submitted all your information.
In addition to your social security number, you may need a few other documents to file your simplified tax return. You will need any income statements you received from recent employers (W2’s or 1099’s), any records you have of governmental aid received (for example, Medi-Cal or Unemployment) and information on any dependents you might have.
Lastly, you need a mailing address to receive the check or pre-paid debit card.
If you do not have a bank account, and you did not sign up for direct deposit when filing your simplified tax return, that means your stimulus payment will arrive as a prepaid debit card or a paper check in the mail. (The IRS will decide who gets a debit card instead of a paper check.)
If you don’t have a bank account, there are several places where you can sign up for a mailing address while living unsheltered. Amongst other options, you can go to the Berkeley DropIn Center in South Berkeley or sign up to receive mail through Catholic Worker. (Scroll to the bottom of this article for more information about how to sign up for a mailing address.)
If you do receive a prepaid debit card, your card will arrive in a plain envelope (many people threw theirs out last year thinking it was junk mail!), and you will need to go online and set it up before you can access the $1,400.
If you get a paper check, keep reading to learn how to deposit it.
Depositing your stimulus check
The fastest way to receive your stimulus payment is by direct deposit. However, if you don’t have a checking account, you can still claim your stimulus payment, it will just take longer to get to you.
Cash it at a local store
Many grocery stores will cash your check for a low fee. Walmart, for example, will allow you to cash your stimulus check for a fee of between $4 and $8. Other grocery stores where you can cash a check for a low fee include Albertsons and Kroger-owned markets.
You could also open a checking account.
If you’re worried about carrying that much cash, however, you might consider opening up a checking account with your local credit union. Banks are considered essential services, and remain open. If you are not comfortable walking into the bank, many traditional banks are also accepting online checking account applications. Golden 1 Credit Union is accepting online applications. Mechanics Bank is also accepting online applications. Both banks have mobile banking apps, which allow you to use your smartphone’s camera to deposit your stimulus check.
There are a few digital alternatives to a checking account.
Cash App is allowing users to deposit their stimulus checks for free. Cash App offers a Cash Card service. Once you sign up, they will send you a free debit card connected to your account balance—you do not need to have a bank account to do this. PayPal is allowing people with bank accounts to deposit their stimulus check for free. They also offer a separate Cash Card service, which will send you a free debit card after you sign up. Another option for people with bank accounts is to deposit your stimulus check directly into Venmo using their “cash a check” feature.
WHAT IF I APPLIED AS A NON-FILER IN THE LAST ROUND?
I received my $1,200 and $600 checks in 2020, and want to make sure I get the new stimulus check
If you applied as a non-filer in the last rounds of payments, you may still have to submit information to the IRS website in order to receive the new, $1,400 payment.
Note: If you did receive the 2020 stimulus checks, check on the status of your $1,400 payment here before going through the trouble to fill out a whole new form.
I qualified for the stimulus checks in 2020 but did not receive them
The deadline for non-filers to claim the $1,200 and $600 checks Economic Impact Payments issued in 2020 has passed. However, if you would have qualified for any of the earlier stimulus payments but still haven’t received them, you could qualify for a tax rebate which you can claim when you fill out your simplified tax return.
Note: If you think you already applied to receive either of the 2020 stimulus checks, check on the status of your payment here before going through the trouble to fill out a whole new form.
If you are struggling to fill out your non-filer form or have other questions about your stimulus check, you can call the Bay Area Legal Aid’s Legal Advice Line (local phone numbers listed here). You can also schedule an appointment with Lawyers in the Library, a free program hosted by the Oakland Public Library that allows you to make a one-on-one appointment with a volunteer lawyer. You may also be able to receive assistance through Earn it Keep it Save it, Alameda County Social Services, or San Francisco Human Services.
There are also other online resources that can help walk you through the process of applying to receive your stimulus payment. Check out Tipping Point or Bay Area Legal Aid’s website if you’re having trouble.
Keep scrolling for a list of organizations that can assist you in filing a simplified tax return.
How to get a new ID card or driver’s license
In addition to your Social Security number, you need a government issued ID, or at least your ID number. If you don’t currently have an ID, that process is a little more complicated. You will need to go to a physical DMV location to fill out a new ID application. Fortunately, all branches of the California DMV have reopened.
The DMV is not currently accepting new appointments, so if you have to go, try to get in line before they open to save yourself some time. A new ID without the fee waiver costs $30. To obtain a fee waiver, you can visit Homeless Action Center or Roots Community Health Center during their open hours. You will need to provide proof of your enrollment in EBT or CalWorks in order to qualify for a fee waiver.
All California DMVs have reopened. Applying for a reduced fee or no-fee ID card qualifies as a transaction that requires an in-person visit. So does any commercial Driver License transaction. In certain cases ID renewal can be completed online due to the pandemic. Find out more here.
Where to sign up for a mailing address
Night on the Streets Catholic Worker (Downtown Berkeley)
To receive mail through the Catholic Worker, you must first sign up with JC Orton. You can find him in his navy-blue van on the corner of Shattuck and Kittredge Monday-Saturday from 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. The mail service is free of charge, and no government issued ID is required to retrieve mail.
For more information, you can call JC at (510) 684-1892.
Berkeley Drop in Center (south Berkeley)
To receive mail through the Berkeley Drop in Center, simply list their address as your mailing address:
3234 Adeline Street
Berkeley, CA 94703
You may pick up mail from the Berkeley Drop in Center on Mondays and Thursdays from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
You must show your ID to pick up your mail.
Homeless Action Center (HAC)
If you are not already a client of HAC, you cannot have your regular mail sent here. However, you can send certain emergency documents to HAC even if you are not a client. These include ID cards and birth certificates. However, HAC is unable to accept your stimulus check *unless* you are already a client.
HAC is currently open from Monday to Thursday from 1:00-5:00 p.m. Simply list their address as the location for your ID to be delivered. Their addresses are:
3126 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, CA 94705
2601 San Pablo Ave, Oakland, CA 94612
General Delivery Mail Service (San Francisco)
Anyone without a permanent address can have their mail delivered to any United States Postal Office that accepts General Delivery. In San Francisco, that address is:
391 Ellis Street San Francisco, CA 94102
To pick up your mail, you will need a government issued ID with a first and last name that matches the name on your mail. More information about general delivery here.
Tax assistance organizations
(Courtesy of Bay Area Legal Aid)
You can get free high quality tax assistance from a number of organizations. You do not need to pay for tax assistance to file your tax return. Below are a number of organizations offering free high quality tax assistance to low-income individuals. Please note that most of these organizations will require you to make an appointment, and will also ask you for identification, your Social Security card, and any recent tax documents:
Call (510) 535-6101 to make an in-person appointment. Visit https://unitycouncil.org/program/vita/ for more information.
Alameda County Social Services Agency – Earn it! Keep it! Save it!
To make an appointment, you need to register and schedule an appointment online at https://public.alamedasocialservices.org/EITCScheduler.
Please note that you will need to provide a cell phone number or an e-mail address. Please visit https://alamedakids.org/resource-directory/program_uploads/155_1166_6097959266.pdf for more information, including locations and hours. If you do not have access to a computer, you can make an appointment by calling (510) 645-9352.
VITA – UC Hastings Low Income Tax Clinic
Register for virtual tax assistance at https://www.uchastings.edu/academics/pro-bono/vita/. Appointments are available between February 22, 2021 and April 12, 2021.
San Antonio Community Development Center in Oakland
Email firstname.lastname@example.org to get free help with tax preparation after January 20, 2021.
Acorn Computer Learning Center
Call (510) 444-1206 to make an in-person appointment after Feb 16, 2021.
Chinese Newcomers Service Center
Call (415) 421-2111 to make an appointment to drop off your documents at their office in San Francisco. Visit https://chinesenewcomers.org/en/volunteer-income-tax-assistance-program-vita/ for more information.
Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (“VITA”)
To find the free VITA site closest to you, visit https://irs.treasury.gov/freetaxprep/ or call (800) 906-9887.
United Way of the Bay Area
https://earnitkeepitsaveit.org/ or call 211.
Visit https://tax-aid.org/ or call (415) 229-9240 to make an appointment for virtual or in-person support at their San Francisco office. Tax-Aid is also able to assist with past years’ tax returns.
AARP Tax Aide
Visit https://www.aarp.org/money/taxes/aarp_taxaide/ to make an appointment for virtual or in-person tax assistance.
Mission Economic Development Agency (“MEDA”)
Visit https://medasf.org/programs/free-tax-preparation/ for virtual assistance with tax filings. Services are also available in Spanish.
Resources for undocumented people in the Bay Area
Download this guide
This document is designed to be printed out and cut/stapled into a zine.
Note: We updated the downloadable zine on 3/24/21 to reflect accurate dates, links, and information.
Chris Lee is a writer and visual artist based in Oakland. They previously worked as a technical stage producer in San Francisco.