After a few weeks of talks, all the wheels are now in motion to make President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan a reality. Which means a stimulus check could be hitting your bank account pretty soon. Like by the end of the month! But it’s not just all about the stimulus—the Biden administration calls the plan an emergency legislative package to help the country bounce back from the COVID-19 crisis, and it includes many policies Biden campaigned on.
The plan comes with a hefty price tag of $1.9 trillion that will be spent on (among other things) sending out stimulus direct payments, upping the Child Tax Credit, extending bonus unemployment benefits until September, expanding the Child and Dependent Care Credit, and offering rental assistance.1, 2
The plan almost included an increase to the minimum wage too. That is, until a Senate official said it didn’t meet certain requirements.3 But more on that later.
With the bill signed into action now, it comes just in time because some COVID-19-related unemployment benefits will end in mid-March. So how will all these changes from the American Rescue Plan impact your wallet? Let’s take a look at how it could affect you and your money.
It Revises the Child Tax Credit
If you have kids, listen up—the Child Tax Credit just got a major bump. The American Rescue Plan not only increases the amount of the credit, it also makes big changes in how parents will receive it.
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Normally, parents can receive a maximum tax credit of $2,000 for each qualifying child under age 17. If the parents owe income taxes, the credit reduces their tax bill dollar for dollar. The current Child Tax Credit is also partially refundable, so if the amount of the credit is more than the taxes they owe, parents can get a refund of up to 15% of the household’s income exceeding $2,500 (figuring that out requires some weird math).4
Under the American Rescue Plan, the Child Tax Credit bumps up to $3,000 for children ages 6–17 and $3,600 for children under age 6. It’s also fully refundable—no more weird math! (Well, at least not for the refund.)5
So, for a family with three children, ages 12, 8 and 5, and a household income of $75,000 a year, their current Child Tax Credit would be $6,000. And even with the weird math, they could get a refund for the full amount. Under Biden’s American Rescue Plan, that same family would get a $9,600, fully refundable credit.
But instead of applying the full amount of the credit to income taxes they might owe or getting a refund after they file their taxes, parents will receive the credit up front in monthly payments of $250 per qualifying child ($300 for children under age 6) from the IRS beginning in July of this year. The change would be only for 2021—but there’s support in Congress and the White House for making it a permanent deal.
What does that mean for you? Thanks to the American Rescue Plan, you could go ahead and get half the amount of the tax credit you’re eligible for (based on your 2019 or 2020 income) between July and December of this year. Then, you’d claim the rest on your 2021 taxes.
If you receive the advance payments and it turns out you shouldn’t have because a child you previously claimed is no longer your dependent, you’ll be spared from paying back up to $2,000 per child if you are a single taxpayer who makes less than $40,000 or a married couple who makes less than $60,000.
The plan also directs the secretary of the Treasury to create an online portal that would let parents opt out of advance payments and report any changes in income, marital status or number of eligible children. You’ll be responsible for keeping your information updated to avoid any surprises at tax time.
Those advance payments are a good way to keep more of your own money in your pocket throughout the year. And we’re a big fan of that—but only if it doesn’t create a tax bill for you when it comes time to file your 2021 taxes.
Check in with your tax pro who will be the best source of information on this new tax credit change. They’ll help you make the right call on how or if you should accept the advance payments, and how best to plan your taxes so you don’t end up with a big bill or a crazy-high refund.
It Expands the Child and Dependent Care Credit
The Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit will expand to help families with expenses like day care for kids under 13. Right now, the maximum credit is $3,000 ($6,000 for multiple dependents) for qualified expenses. Congress has decided to raise the max to $8,000 ($16,000 for multiple dependents) and increase the maximum amount you could be reimbursed from 35% to 50%.6
The changes make more people eligible for the credit, too, by raising the income limit for the full amount from $15,000 to $125,000. Taxpayers making between $125,000 and $400,000 would be eligible for a partial credit.7
Another bonus—the credit will become fully refundable, meaning parents could get a refund for the credit even if their tax bill is zero.
What does that mean for you? In real life, that means a family paying $30,000 a year for day care for two kids would see their Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit go from $6,000 to $15,000. But just like the changes to the Child Tax Credit, these updates are only for 2021 (for now).
It Continues the Ban on Evictions and Provides Additional Renter’s Assistance
In one of his first acts as president, Joe Biden extended the freeze on evictions that Congress first passed in March 2020 under the CARES Act. The extension continues the ban on evictions for people who can’t pay their rent because of job loss or a drop in income due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
While the ban on evictions helped many renters stay in their homes, it didn’t help them with any back rent they owed in the meantime. In December 2020, Congress approved $25 billion in emergency renter’s assistance to help renters and landlords cover their housing costs. The American Rescue Plan would also pile another $30 billion on top of that and keep the aid coming to cover unpaid rent, utilities and other fees.8
Under the current program, money is actually given to the states, then to city and county rental assistance programs. Renters and landlords can apply for emergency assistance through those local programs that will cover up to 12 months of overdue rent and fees, plus three months of future rent payments. The new funding would simply allow the program to continue and help more people.9
What does that mean for you? You are eligible now for renter’s assistance if at least one person in your household qualifies for unemployment, has had a cutback in income, or experienced some kind of financial hardship because of the COVID-19 pandemic. You can also qualify if you’re at risk of being homeless or if your household income is at or below 80% of the median income for the area.10 A renter or a landlord can apply for assistance, and the money is paid directly to the landlord or utility on their behalf.
Here’s our take: Rent is one of your Four Walls (food, utilities, shelter, transportation), so if you need the help to keep a roof over your head, take it. That will lift at least part of the burden and clear your head so you can make plans to find work and get your income back up. As you do, keep your focus on your Four Walls until your income is stable and you can build up your savings and move on to the Baby Steps.
Getting behind on your rent, losing your job, or losing income isn’t just a blow to your budget—it can steal your hope that things will ever get better. But a solid plan can make all the difference. You just need to know where to start. Take three minutes to answer a few questions, and you’ll know exactly where you are with your money—and how to get to where you want to be.
It Continues the Boosted Unemployment Benefits Through September 2021
While the number of people who are unemployed is down from its high in April 2020, plenty of folks are still looking for work and depending on unemployment benefits to make ends meet.
Congress worked to extend unemployment benefits as recently as December 2020, but that was due to expire in mid-March. Lawmakers set a deadline for themselves to get this American Rescue Plan approved by then so the extra benefits wouldn’t be stalled.
With the passage of the plan, people who are receiving unemployment benefits will continue to get beefed-up payments—$300 a week on top of the regular benefit—for another 25 weeks, through September 6.11
The plan also extends federal unemployment programs created in response to the job losses caused by the pandemic in two ways:
The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program helps out people who wouldn’t normally get unemployment benefits, like part-time workers, gig workers and people who are self-employed. That assistance is now available for 79 weeks, and you can apply for it as late as September 6. And The Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program (this kicks in for people when they’ve run out of their regular state benefits) is now available for 53 weeks, and, same as with the other benefits, you have to apply for them before September 6.
What does that mean for you? In addition to boosting benefits and making them available for longer, the new law makes the first $10,200 in unemployment benefits tax-free for people with an income of less than $150,000.12 But the tax break only applies to unemployment you received in 2020. So if you’ve already filed your 2020 taxes or you opted to have income taxes taken out of your unemployment benefits when you received them, look for the IRS to give you instructions on how to take advantage of this tax break.
It Won’t Raise the Minimum Wage
There were talks this might get pushed through, but that’s all it was—talk. Raising the minimum wage didn’t make the cut when it came to the final version of the American Rescue Plan. That’s because lawmakers moved the bill through using a process called “reconciliation”—and that requires it to have a budget impact. The Senate’s chief parliamentarian (fancy name for a person whose job it is to make sure lawmakers follow the rules), said the minimum wage plan doesn’t meet that requirement, so it couldn’t be voted on.13
That doesn’t mean lawmakers will give up on the plan though. The federal minimum wage has been $7.25 an hour for more than a decade, and President Biden and many in Congress say that needs to change to help the U.S. recover from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.14 So, lawmakers could try to find another way to grow the minimum wage to $15 sometime later on down the road.
What does that mean for you? We won’t sugarcoat it—living on the current minimum wage is tough. It’s not surprising that workers making minimum wage right now would get excited about a possible change. But if the plan ever does go into effect, it won’t be all sunshine and roses. Expect fewer hours—even fewer entry-level jobs—while businesses absorb the impact of the increase to their bottom line.
If you’re making minimum wage, or any income you’re not happy about, there’s no need to wait on the government to solve that for you. (Clearly, you could be waiting a long time!) You have the option to find a better-paying job today. Ken Coleman has been helping people figure out what role they were meant for—and how to land their dream job—for years through his daily show and his book, The Proximity Principle.
You can learn how to build up your skills and make yourself more marketable for jobs in your area. That will put you on the road to better opportunities and higher income throughout your career.
Your Real Rescue Plan
Whew! You still with us? That’s enough legislation jargon, numbers and facts to sink a battleship. And even though the American Rescue Plan represents a lot of change and a lot (a lot) of taxpayer money—our advice is still the same:
The answers to your money problems will not come from Washington, D.C.—ever. No matter your situation, you have the power to improve it—whether you’re drowning in debt, have lost your job, or you just want a more secure financial future for yourself and your family. Ramsey+ has everything you need to learn how to pay off debt, save money, and build wealth. It’s helped millions of people have hope for their money situation, and the best part is, you can check it out today with a free 14-day trial—no government rescue plan needed.