What to do with your stimulus check

BY D. LARS DOLDER, News + Record Staff
Posted 3/17/21

After some consternation, much deliberation and delayed adjudication, they’re finally here: stimulus checks 3.0.

They’re bigger than ever at $1,400 a pop, but fewer Americans will qualify than …

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What to do with your stimulus check

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After some consternation, much deliberation and delayed adjudication, they’re finally here: stimulus checks 3.0.

They’re bigger than ever at $1,400 a pop, but fewer Americans will qualify than in earlier rounds of federally sponsored assistance.

The checks — although many recipients will get theirs through direct deposits — arrive at a different time in our pandemic saga than previous iterations. Congress authorized the first stimulus bill, 2020’s CARES Act, almost exactly a year ago amid a truly unprecedented economic low. The national unemployment rate flirted with 15%. In North Carolina, we topped 13% — the worst it had ever been in our state’s recorded history, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

These days, it’s a different story. Here in N.C., we’re teetering just below 6% unemployment. It’s not great, but not far off from the historical nationwide average.

Still, many will need this stimulus money to preserve and extend any semblance of financial security. The employment rate may have improved, but simple stats hide what is likely a grim situation for millions of American families. Only a few months ago, NPR reported that one in three adults struggled to pay for basic expenses such as food, rent, car payments and other loans. At the pandemic’s start, the American Payroll Association released survey data suggesting almost 75% of all employed Americans were living paycheck to paycheck. After a year in a pandemic, I doubt that figure has improved.

For such individuals, then, $1,400 is a vital lifeline to stay afloat while long-term recovery idles.

But what if you’re not in financial irons? After all, you can earn up to $75,000 annually ($150,000 for joint filers) and still qualify for the complete payout. You may be doing just fine.

Let’s assume you have been employed throughout the pandemic, you have at least a three-month emergency fund (a basic best practice), your savings/retirement fund is appropriately robust according to the years you have left in the work force — what should you do with your $1,400 check?

Blow it.

Seriously. And don’t feel bad.

There are few opportunities in life to spend money with no strings attached. Now, I know, there’s no such thing as “free money;” I’ve written about that before (if you’re not subscribing to our newsletter, the Chatham Brew, you’re missing out). But you can’t get much closer than federal money deposited directly into your bank account — no questions asked.

If it makes you feel better, consider it your civic duty to be a momentary spendthrift.

“When governments are trying to stimulate the economy, a transfer of cash can allow people to spend more, buy more, eat out more, all of which helps to keep the economy growing,” Aparna Mathur, a resident scholar at American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, told NBC News when the first round of stimulus was under consideration.

The point of these trillions in federal dispensation is not to line our mattresses. Those who need stimulus money to shore up their financial well-being should spend or save accordingly. Everyone else should put the money back into circulation.

“If you haven’t really been financially impacted by this pandemic,” said financial planner Michael H. Baker in a recent Newsweek interview, “I urge you to consider helping others with these funds.”

Small businesses are hurting. I’ve spoken with dozens of business owners in Chatham in recent months. Only one told me he was unscathed in the last year.

Help local commerce if you can. It’s a win-win — guilt-free spending never felt so guilt-free.

If you’re unfamiliar with the details of this most recent stimulus package, here are some highpoints:

• Unless you earn more than $75,000 individually, $112,500 as head of household or $150,000 for joint filers, expect a $1,400 check or deposit in the next few weeks

• If you’re out of work, the bill includes $300 in weekly federal unemployment benefits to last through Labor Day

• The biggest beneficiaries will be those with kids. The child tax credit is going up to $3,000 from $2,000 — $3,600 if your kids are under 6. And that’s PER CHILD. Normally the tax credit is applied toward your tax return, but in this case, the government will send those funds as extra checks to the child-rearers among us.

Other business news

• The Chatham Chamber of Commerce announced 19 new members last week. They include The Cut Buddy LLC, an innovative self-grooming product manufacturer that has been featured on Shark Tank and in Forbes, GQ and NPR; The School of the Arts for Boys Academy (see Hannah McClellan’s recent article on Chatham’s newest school); and Main Street Pittsboro, a group of business owners working to stimulate Pittsboro’s economic development while upholding the town’s historic preservation.

Look out for dedicated examinations of Chatham Chamber of Commerce members in later Enterprising Chatham installments.

• Our friends south of the border (across the Chatham County line, in Lee) were recently recognized as one of the best attractors of corporate investment in the country.

Sanford placed fifth on Site Selection Magazine’s ranking of Micropolitan Areas in the United States, the Sanford Area Growth Alliance reported last week.

The prestigious ranking is based on a community’s ability to attract and develop corporate projects. The magazine defines “micropolitan” communities as having a population of 10,000 to 49,999.

Sanford was the highest ranking North Carolina community on the list which selects 100 communities from around the country. Altogether, nine N.C. communities made the list.

“Being recognized as a Top 5 community — out of over 500 communities in the entire United States — is a marketing coup for the Growth Alliance,” Bob Joyce, senior director of business retention and expansion at SAGA said in a release. “Site Selection Magazine’s 138-year-old history and its reputation among corporate decision-makers means this award provides a significant boost for our national marketing efforts.”

Despite unusual challenges over the last 18 months, including a year of pandemic, Sanford attracted $282 million in new investment, according to SAGA Board of Directors Chairperson April Montgomery. With new business came 675 new jobs.

“(It) is positive proof that our public-private partnership approach in economic development works,” she said.

Have an idea for what Chatham business topics I should write about? Send me a note at dldolder@chathamnr.com or on Twitter @dldolder.


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