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A practitioner’s guide to helping people facing homelessness access stimulus payments — also known as Economic Impact Payments (EIP)

If you work with or serve people in your community who are experiencing homelessness, take these steps to help them receive much-needed financial relief.

Step 1: Confirm eligibility

If your clients meet the eligibility requirements and haven’t already claimed their payments, they can access the first two stimulus payments – issued by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) – by filing a 2020 tax return and claiming the Recovery Rebate Credit . Once they file a 2020 return, the IRS will have their information and can send them the third EIP at a later date.

Try to file a 2020 return by the current filing deadline of May 17, 2021. You can also file a 2020 return after the filing deadline and if you have no balance due to the IRS there will be no penalties for filing late.

Read our comprehensive overview of EIP payments and commonly asked questions.

Step 2: Gather critical information

People experiencing homelessness may face unique challenges to receiving much-needed financial aid. In order to file a tax return, they will need:

Social Security Number (SSN) or a Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN)

If your client can’t recall their SSN, contact the Social Security Administration .

If your client can’t obtain an SSN, the IRS or a Certified Acceptance Agent (CAA) can issue a U.S. taxpayer identification number (TIN). The two best options for acquiring a TIN are to find a CAA in your community or go to an IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center (TAC). Make sure your client has one of the accepted types of identification with them if they are applying for a TIN.

Mailing address

People need a place where they can receive mail from the IRS. This can be any fixed address where they can securely pick-up mail for an extended period, ideally at least a year. If your client doesn’t have a fixed address, options may include:

  • Shelters, service providers, or places of worship that hold mail for residents or clients;
  • Friends or relatives of the people you’re serving;
  • Post office boxes;
  • Personal mailboxes, which can be rented to provide a permanent address;
  • As a last resort, people can use a post office address as General Delivery. A post office will hold general delivery for 30 days. People will need to contact the post office for General Delivery instructions for their area.

Phone number

If your client doesn’t have a cell phone, they can use the phone number of a trusted friend, relative, or the phone number of the social service organization providing guidance.

Email address

If your client doesn’t have an email address, you may have to help them create a free email through an established email provider. Remind them to keep their username and password information in a secure location. Sensitive financial information may be sent to this address.

Any tax-related documents

If they earned income throughout the year, or received other tax-related documents, they’ll need to have their documents, including any W-2s or 1099-Gs, available when they file their taxes.

You don’t need to have earned income in order to file a tax return and claim the EIP. You can file a $0 return. EIPs will not be taxed and are not required to be paid back.

Once you’ve helped your clients gather all this information, they may need help accessing the Internet or a computer to file their taxes.

Step 3: Access tax preparation services

There are several ways to file a tax return, including free or affordable tax preparation services for low- to moderate-income individuals, persons with disabilities, the elderly, and limited English speakers.

For individuals facing homelessness, many local Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) programs are offering a variety of free tax preparation options in 2021, including virtual tax preparation, drop-off services, and facilitated self-preparation. Find a VITA program near you or visit MyFreeTaxes to prepare a return using free software or find free tax-preparation assistance.

If no free tax preparation services are available, your clients can seek out reputable tax preparation services, which may require a fee.

It’s important to remind your homeless clients that the money belongs to them and not to people or organizations that have helped them receive the funds.

Step 4: Determine payment options

The majority of payments issued by the IRS will be delivered through direct deposit, check, or through a non-reloadable pre-paid Metabank debit card issued by the Department of Treasury. Filers can choose between receiving funds through direct deposit or check, but currently, they can’t choose whether or not to receive a pre-paid EIP debit card.

Existing pre-paid debit card

If your client has an existing and reloadable pre-paid debit card, you may be able to have their EIP applied to the card. You would need to check first with the financial institution to ensure the card can be used, as well as to obtain the routing number and account number, which may be different from the card number.

Direct deposit

Direct deposit is the safest and fastest way to receive an EIP, as well as a good solution if your client doesn’t have an address where they can reliably receive mail.

However, if your client doesn’t have a bank or credit union account, you can help them explore account options that are safe, affordable, insured, and can be opened remotely . In order to open an account, they will need a physical address where they can receive mail.

Step 5: Protect against scams

With the rollout of EIPs, there’s an increased risk of scams. Here are tips to protect your clients:

  • Be vigilant of unsolicited communications asking for personal or private information through mail, email, phone call, text, social media or websites.
  • The IRS will never ask for personal information or threaten benefits by phone call, email, text or social media.
  • Also, the IRS won’t threaten jail or lawsuits, or demand tax payments on gift cards.

If they receive unsolicited email, text, or social media messages that appears to be from the IRS or an organization associated with the IRS, like the Department of the Treasury Electronic Federal Tax Payment System, notify the IRS at phishing@irs.gov.

If they become a victim of a COVID-19 scam, report it to the Department of Justice’s National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) at 866-720-5721 or submit an online complaint . IRS-related scams, including fraud or theft of Economic Impact Payments, should also be reported to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) .

Learn more about coronavirus-related scams

An EIP or stimulus payment has the potential of helping those experiencing homelessness find and secure more stable housing, meet basic needs, and withstand the financial burden of the COVID-19 crisis in safety and with dignity.