Do College Students Qualify for Stimulus Checks?

Do College Students Qualify for Stimulus Checks?
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By Anne Dennon

Published on March 19, 2021

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President Joe Biden recently signed a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 stimulus package into law, sending a third round of checks to Americans. More college students could qualify for funds this time.

The two previous COVID-19 economic stimulus bills — last March's $2.2 trillion act and December's $900 billion act — sent stimulus checks to all U.S. adults, including financially independent college students. Dependent college students, however, did not qualify.

How College Students Qualify for Stimulus Checks

Independent Students

Eligible students in this category will receive up to $1,400, depending on their income level.

Dependent Students

Students in this category will not receive stimulus checks directly. Qualified parents or guardians will receive up to $1,400 per dependent, including dependent college students.

In the latest stimulus, qualified independent students will receive their stimulus checks directly. A parent or guardian will receive a $1,400 stimulus check for each dependent, including dependent college students. It remains unclear, however, whether noncitizen students, such as international students and beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, are eligible for the funds.

Size of Stimulus Check for Independent College Students

For Individuals Earning … For Couples Earning … Check Amount
Up to $75,000 per year Up to $150,000 per year $1,400
Between $75,000 and $80,000 Between $150,000 and $160,000 $280 to less than $1,400

Source: CNBC

Dependent college students will not receive their own stimulus checks separate from those received by their parents or guardians. While the majority of American college students are independent, roughly 45% are dependent, meaning they don't file their own taxes and are instead claimed as a dependent on a parent or guardian's tax return.

If you are a dependent college student and need help with tuition and other expenses, you may want to speak with your parent or guardian about how they intend to use their stimulus checks.

Relief Bill Offers Students More Than Just Stimulus Checks

Beyond stimulus checks, the American Rescue Plan includes several measures that directly impact college students. With youth unemployment still high, many will be eligible for increased unemployment benefits. Renters' relief could also help the growing number of students facing housing insecurity. In addition, the nearly 5 million students who are raising children will benefit from increased child tax credits, now set at $3,000 per child.

The large relief package also includes a tax break for student debt cancellation. Progressive groups are demanding that the Biden administration cancel student debt by executive action, a path the president has refused to take while signaling support for some debt forgiveness.

Economists note that unilaterally canceling debt could come at an unintended cost to students: Debt forgiveness is generally considered income, meaning it's taxable. But the new tax break, now in place through January 1, 2026, sidesteps this risk. It's also the first legislative step Biden has taken toward accomplishing student debt relief.

Colleges to Distribute Billions Directly to Students

The American Rescue Plan allocates nearly $40 billion to colleges and universities — the largest college bailout to date — bringing the grand total for higher education relief during the pandemic to around $75 billion. All of that money carries the same stipulation: Half must go directly to students in the form of emergency grants.

Funding for colleges will target schools with endowments of less than $1 million and that enroll high numbers of Pell Grant recipients. While the $40 billion is intended to help campuses meet COVID-19 safety standards, expand online services, and invest in remedial education, 50% has been specifically earmarked for students in need.

Schools get to decide how to divvy up students' money. Whereas some may base their strategy on FAFSA applications (another great reason to get this year's FAFSA in) and distribute funds to Pell Grant recipients and other high-need students, other institutions may run outreach campaigns urging students to apply.

Feature Image: Douglas Sacha / Moment / Getty Images

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