Third stimulus check and more: 7 ways to get money from the Biden COVID law

Mere days after President Joe Biden signed his $1.9 trillion COVID relief package into law, money is already flowing to Americans who’ve been struggling through the pandemic for more than a year.

The legislation includes the long-awaited third stimulus checks, the direct payments for most adults and children in the U.S. But there’s much more aid to go around — so much, in fact, that the Urban Institute says the various provisions will result in 16 million fewer people living in poverty.

If you need help to stay current on your basic bills, or to pay down debt you’ve run up during the financial crisis of the last year, you have multiple ways of getting it.

Here are seven ways you can get financial relief from the new law.

1. The stimulus checks

Extreme close-up of Federal coronavirus stimulus check.

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The stimulus checks this time are worth up to $1,400 and are being distributed in batches, according to Biden administration officials. The IRS started processing payments on Friday, and people began receiving the money via direct deposit over the weekend.

Americans who earn up to $75,000 (or $150,000 for couples) qualify for the full amount; eligibility is based on your adjusted gross income, which is your taxable income before subtracting the standard deduction or itemized deductions.

Families who qualify get $1,400 for every member of the household, including young children, teenagers, dependents in college and eldery or disabled dependents.

Individuals making between $75,000 and $80,000 (and couples earning between $150,000 and $160,000) get partial payments. Those with higher incomes receive no stimulus check this time.

If you’re in that group and were counting on getting some cash to reduce costly credit card debt, a lower-interest debt consolidation loan can help you rein in your balances — and pay them off more quickly.

2. Cash for families

The bill beefs up the child tax credit to provide a kind of monthly stimulus check for families with children, available under the same income limits as the regular relief money.

If you’ve got kids, you can expect to receive payments of $250 per month during the second half of 2021 for each child between ages 6 and 17. For children younger than 6, you’ll get $300 a month.

That brings the tax credit for 2021 up to $3,000 or $3,600, depending on age, with the second half of the credit fully refundable on your 2021 taxes.

The rescue bill not only increases the amount families will receive by up to $1,600 per child, from its original $2,000 maximum, but it also makes the entire credit refundable.

If you don’t need the money to cover immediate expenses, this can be a good opportunity to teach your children about managing money. You could deposit some (or all) of their funds in a debit card designed for kids and monitor every purchase through a safe, secure app.

3. Extra unemployment benefits

Man walking out of an office holding box of things, wearing a mask

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Federal unemployment benefits were set to expire March 14, which provided some urgency for Congress to pass the relief bill by mid-March.

The legislation has extended those bonus benefits, so if you lost your job in the pandemic you can now expect to continue to receive $300 a week from the federal government until Sept. 6.

Plus, the Senate added an amendment that makes the first $10,200 of jobless benefits tax-exempt for households making less than $150,000. You’ll notice the savings when you fire up your tax software.

The bill also offers freelancers, gig workers and those with side hustles additional support through the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program.

While those workers don’t usually qualify for unemployment, the assistance program has provided them with up to 79 weeks of benefits throughout the pandemic.

4. Emergency assistance for housing expenses

Also tucked into the bill is help for Americans struggling to pay their housing costs, whether that be rent or a mortgage.

For renters, the bill offers nearly $22 billion in rental and utility assistance for those at risk of being evicted.

Households have to meet several conditions to qualify for the financial assistance. Priority will be given to lower-income families with members who have been unemployed for three or more months.

For homeowners whose struggles can’t be resolved by refinancing to a lower mortgage rate, the bill provides billions to help them with their monthly loan payments, utility bills and other housing costs, like homeowners insurance.

And, there’s a chunk of money to pay for housing counseling for both renters and homeowners, to help more people stay in their houses.

5. More generous health insurance discounts

Doctor sitting with young man, looking at forms

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Another provision in the relief package not only lowers the cost of health insurance — at least temporarily — but also is expected to extend coverage to 1.3 million Americans.

The new law expands the subsidies, or discounts, on Obamacare health plans to people earning more than four times the federal poverty rate, which is approximately $51,520 for single people and $106,000 for a family of four. And, it caps the premiums at 8.5% of a person’s income for the next two years.

Here’s an example of what that means: A 64-year-old woman with a $58,000 income will see her premiums reduced from $12,900 to $4,950, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO). That’s a 61% savings.

You can compare plans and shop for health insurance during the current Obamacare special enrollment period, which runs until mid-May.

Finally, the law offers relief if you received a premium subsidy last year in excess of what you were entitled to. Usually, you’d have to pay back the difference to the IRS. But this year — and this year only — you won’t.

6. COVID-related paid leave

If you work for the federal government, the legislation provides some paid-leave benefits.

You can take up to 600 paid hours (capped at $1,400 a week) if you are:

  • Showing symptoms of COVID-19.

  • Caring for a family member sick with the virus.

  • Taking time off to get vaccinated, or suffering some side effects of the vaccine.

  • Caring for children who are in virtual learning, or facing school or child care center closures.

For employers with fewer than 500 employees, the package offers resources to provide as much as $1,400 a week in paid leave. But the bill doesn’t mandate that companies offer paid leave — it just gives reimbursement if they choose to do so.

7. Tax savings if your student loan debt is canceled

Young woman sitting on sofa at home holds paper reading letter looks happy

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For the 44.7 million Americans with student loan debt, the package contains a significant provision.

Previously, any canceled federal student loan debt would have been considered taxable income. But the legislation now makes student loan forgiveness tax-free, which could mean major tax savings.

It means if $50,000 of your federal student loan debt is eventually canceled — which some members of the Democratic party are pushing hard for — you could avoid receiving a tax bill of up to $10,000.

Even just $10,000 worth of cancellation would save you at least $2,000 when you file your return.

If your student loans are through a private lender and debt cancellation isn’t in the cards for you, you could still save hundreds of dollars a month by refinancing your loan at a better rate. Rates on private student loans have dropped to all-time lows.