How the stimulus bill benefits consumers

Pencil on income tax form

Here's how you could directly benefit from the economic stimulus plan.

Tax credits

You get: $400 to $800 in 2009 and 2010.

If you: File an income tax return. If you don't make enough to owe any income tax, you can still get a refund check for this tax credit. Individuals will get a $400 tax credit; two-income couples will receive as much as $800.

(Unlike a deduction, which reduces the gross income used to calculate how much you owe, a credit comes right off the bottom line of your tax bill. So while a $1 deduction might cut your taxes by 25 or 30 cents, depending on your tax bracket, a $1 credit will reduce what you owe the government by a full $1.)

But not if you: Make more than $75,000 as an individual or $150,000 as a two-income couple, the threshold at which payments start to be phased out.

How you'll get it: A bigger paycheck. Expect to see less money deducted for taxes beginning in April.

One-time payment to Social Security recipients

You get: $250

If you: Receive Social Security, disability or Supplemental Security Income payments from the government. Couples filing jointly receive $500.

How you get it: A check in the mail within four months of the bill being signed.

Earned-Income Tax Credit

You get: A few hundred additional dollars because the credit is raised from 40% to 45% of the first $12,570 of earnings.

If you: Have three or more qualifying children and make less than $35,000 to $40,000 this year.

How you get it: When you file your 2009 taxes next year.

Child tax credit

You get: The $1,000-per-child tax credit.

If you: Make as little as $3,000 this year or next (down from the old limit of $8,500).

How you get it: When you file your 2009 taxes.

Alternative Minimum Tax relief

You get: A break from higher income taxes for 2009.

If you: Are a middle- or upper-income family that could fall under the AMT.

But: The AMT is a perennial problem. Congress enacts a one-year fix every year and would have done it at some point, regardless of the stimulus package.

Car purchase tax credit

You get: To deduct the state sales tax you pay on the purchase of a new car.

If you: Buy a car this year, after the bill is signed into law. Top price: $49,500.

But not if you: Earn more than $125,000 as an individual or $250,000 as a joint filer.

How you get it: Claim it on the tax return you'll file in 2010. This is a deduction you can take even if you don't itemize your taxes.

Home purchase tax credit

You get: A tax credit of up to $8,000.

If you: Buy a home for the first time between Jan. 1 and Dec. 1 of this year. You also qualify if you haven't owned a home during the past three years.

But not if you: Earn more than $75,000 if you're single or $150,000 if you file jointly. Sell or move out of the house within three years and you'll have to pay the creditg back.

How you get it: Claim it on your 2008 or 2009 taxes using Form 5405. (Yes, the IRS says you can claim the credit on your '08 taxes even if you buy in '09.)

Homeowner tax credits

You get: As much as $1,500.

If you: Install new doors, windows or furnace to make your home more energy efficient. You'll be able to deduct 30% of the equipment cost from your tax bill.

How you get it: Claim it on next year's tax return.

College tax credit

You get: Up to $2,500 per eligible student.

If you: Have higher education expenses.

But not if you: Make more than $80,000 (single) or $160,000 (joint filers).

How you get it: Claim it on the tax return you'll file in 2010.

Pell Grants for college students

You get: Up to $400 more in your Pell Grant for the 2009-10 academic year.

If you: Qualify for a grant for higher education. Most Pell Grants go to students from families with income up to $20,000, but some students with family incomes up to $50,000 also may qualify.

Subsidized health insurance

You get: 60% of your COBRA health-care premiums paid for nine months.

If you: Are forced out of your job between Sept. 1, 2008, and Dec. 31, 2009, and are eligible for health insurance coverage under COBRAa, the program that allows newly laid off workers to continue under their former employer's plan for 18 months if they pay their own premium. That can cost more than $1,000 a month.

But not if you: Earn more than $125,000 to $145,000 as an individual, or $250,000 to $290,000 as a couple, in the year you receive the subsidy.

How you get it: You're considered "paid up" if you pay 35% of the premium, beginning after the bill is enacted. The federal subsidy will go either to the insurer or to your former employer.

If this doesn't help: Another provision would provide state funding to expand Medicaid for workers who have lost a job and can't afford or don't qualify for COBRA coverage.

Health-coverage tax credit

You get: An additional break on your health-care premium.

If you: Are eligible for the Health-Coverage Tax Credit under the Trade Act. This is a law that helps certain workers who lost their jobs due to trade issues and retirees whose pensions were taken over by the federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation. It normally reimburses 65% of the cost of coverage in the form of a tax credit; the stimulus raises the credit to 80%, beginning on the first day of the month 60 days after the bill is signed into law.

How you get it: When you file your taxes in 2010, the credit comes off the top of what you owe.

Unemployment benefits

You get: An extra $25 a week in your check, plus 20 more weeks of benefits, and 13 weeks on top of that if you live in one of 30 "high-unemployment" states. In addition, up to $2,400 will not be subject to federal taxes.

If you: Have lost your job by no fault of your own.

Food stamps

You get: A 13.6% increase in food stamp money. A family of four would receive an additional $80 on top of the $588 per month they get now.

If you: Meet the income requirements for the food stamp program. Broadly, a family of four must have gross monthly income of no more than $2,297 and no more than $2,000 in savings.

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