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Retirees File Returns to Receive Rebate Check

Lindsay Mangum, NPR

The IRS is bracing for millions more tax returns than usual this year. That's because filing a 2007 return is the only way to qualify for economic stimulus rebate checks approved by Congress and President Bush earlier this year.

Generally, single filers will receive between $300 and $600. Married couples filing jointly will receive between $600 and $1,200.

The rebates have created a powerful incentive to file a tax return this year, even for people who don't owe any taxes.


Daniel Rose is a case in point. Rose is retired, and his income is low enough that he hasn't had to file a return in four years. But this year he was waiting in line at an AARP-sponsored tax clinic in Seattle. If he files, he and his wife will receive a $600 check later this spring.

"I plan to buy spring clothes, and take my wife out to dinner — we have an anniversary April 20, and we'll be married 19 years," Rose says.

Retired librarian Mary Zipple is the gatekeeper at this tax clinic.

Zipple says the news of the rebate has brought in people who never file taxes. "Street people, even, who have got some income," Zipple says. "They may have $3,000 worth of income."

Three thousand dollars is the minimum gross qualifying income required for someone to get a rebate check. The government is allowing seniors to count their Social Security benefits toward that minimum, so almost all of them qualify.


All they have to do is file a return. Tax clinic volunteer Judy Maleng says that low-income seniors tend to have very simple returns, and her team flags the returns as such before they're sent to the IRS.

"These are ones that would not be audited because there are no dividends. These are people who don't need to file," Maleng says.

Twenty million extra Americans may file tax returns this year, according to the IRS, so it makes sense that the agency might want to speed things up and identify those that are filing only to get the rebate. But Maleng says even more well-to-do seniors are stopping by to make sure they get rebate checks.

"We had lines of people whose returns we had already done who thought they had to do something more," she says.

They've even considered putting up a sign at the entrance of the tax clinic that explains that anyone who has filed a tax return doesn't have to do anything else to get a stimulus payment.

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