9 ways to build your own $1,200 stimulus check (and forget Congress)

Laveta Brigham

9 ways to build your own $1,200 stimulus check (and forget Congress) Washington has been deadlocked over the next economic bailout bill for months, as the coronavirus continues to spread and new lockdowns batter an already sluggish economy. Congress is running out of time to pass another coronavirus relief package […]

9 ways to build your own $1,200 stimulus check (and forget Congress)
9 ways to build your own $1,200 stimulus check (and forget Congress)

Washington has been deadlocked over the next economic bailout bill for months, as the coronavirus continues to spread and new lockdowns batter an already sluggish economy.

Congress is running out of time to pass another coronavirus relief package before Christmas as lawmakers from both sides of the aisle try to cut a deal.

But not every proposal has included those popular “stimulus checks,” the $1,200 direct relief payments to Americans. In fact, a plan from Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin has proposed cutting them in half — to $600.

If Congress doesn’t come to an agreement on stimulus checks, you might need to essentially create your own, by getting creative about making and saving money. Here are nine ways to pad your bank account with $1,200 to keep you afloat, at least until a COVID-19 vaccine is widely available.

1. Reunite with your long-lost money

pile of american dollars money under manifying glass close up
Neirfy / Shutterstock

Chances are you’ve got some money just sitting out there, maybe in an old account, that you’ve totally forgotten about.

It happens to 1 in 10 Americans, according to the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators, which says the states return $3 billion in unclaimed property to its rightful owners every year.

You can search what’s in state databases of unclaimed funds by going to MissingMoney.com. There, you’ll find out if you left any money in an old checking or savings account, or if you’re entitled to life insurance proceeds from relatives who’ve passed away.

2. Pay less every time you shop online

Happy woman doing online shopping at home
gpointstudio / Shutterstock

If the coronavirus has put you in the habit of doing most of your shopping online, Amazon and Walmart.com may be your go-tos. But they don’t always have the best prices, and nobody has time to price-check every store.

So, just download a free price-checking browser extension that will automatically find you deals and coupon codes every time you shop online.

You also can set price-drop alerts for your favorite products, so if they go on sale you’ll be the first to know.

Taking a moment to do the installation could save you hundreds of dollars each year — maybe even as much as $1,200.

3. Refinance your mortgage (if you’ve got one)

Row of large old brick houses with front porches and gardens
Spiroview Inc / Shutterstock

If you’re a homeowner with a mortgage you took out as recently as early 2020, you might easily create a $1,200 stimulus payment for yourself by refinancing to one of today’s low mortgage rates.

Thirty-year fixed-rate mortgages have plunged to an all-time-low 2.72% in the nearly 50-year-old weekly survey from mortgage company Freddie Mac. With rates way down at those levels, 19.4 million homeowners could save an average $309 a month by refinancing, according to estimates from Black Knight.

The mortgage technology and data provider says you’re a good refi candidate if own at least 20% of your home outright, could cut your 30-year mortgage rate by three-quarters of 1 percentage point (0.75) or better, and have a credit score of 720 or higher.

Refinancing is the right move if you plan to stay in the home long enough to break even on your closing costs, which can run from 2% to 5% of your loan amount.

4. Trim your car insurance costs

Happy woman driving a car and smiling. Cute young success happy brunette woman is driving a car. Portrait of happy female driver steering car with safety belt
Dragana Gordic / Shutterstock

Your car insurance probably comes due every six months, and it’s very easy to just blindly pay your premium without going over the numbers. That’s exactly how you wind up paying more than you should.

Drivers can save an average $1,127 a year by shopping around regularly for the lowest auto insurance rates, a study by CarInsurance.com found. Each time your policy comes up for renewal, use a service that compares rates from a large number of insurers to see whether you’re paying the best price.

Look for advertised discounts — like if your car is loaded with safety features. The insurance company might knock a percentage off your bill for your air bags, anti-lock brakes or even daytime running lights.

Or, you might cut your premiums by agreeing to higher deductibles, which means you cover more of your own losses before the insurance kicks in.

5. Score savings on your home insurance

Household Budget. Smiling Black Couple Discussing Total Amount Of Their Spends At Home, Happy About Wise Planning
Prostock-studio / Shutterstock

As with your car insurance, you can fall into the trap of paying too much for your homeowners insurance if you don’t shop around. Prices can be all over the place.

As an example, LendingTree’s ValuePenguin site found annual home insurance rates in Florida can vary by more than $1,500 for coverage that’s practically the same.

You might be missing out on discounts, too. A popular one is for “bundling,” if you buy your home insurance from the same company that provides your auto insurance.

To see the best deals available in your area, use a website that will help you review quotes from lots of insurers, so you’ll never overpay for your homeowners coverage again.

6. Earn more money through a side hustle

logo design brand designer sketch graphic drawing creative creativity draw studying work tablet concept - stock image
REDPIXEL.PL / Shutterstock

You have a hobby, right? Or some special skills or talents? You might be able to use what you’ve got to land some side work to earn the equivalent of a second stimulus check.

Maybe you write, or know website or graphic design, or even have a knack for doing celebrity impressions. When you use an online marketplace for gig work, you can find someone looking to pay for your unique services.

It’s sort of like online dating: You just create a profile describing what you offer, and people will contact you if you have what they’re looking for.

Once you start completing gigs and racking up positive reviews for your work, you can bump up your price, rake in even more money — and maybe consider making your side hustle your full-time job.

7. Smarten up with your student loan debt

Piggy bank with grad cap

Payments on federal student loans have been paused through the end of 2020, but if you’ve got debt from a private student loan you’re still on the hook for your regular monthly minimum.

You could refinance that debt at a record-low interest rate — currently down to just 1% in some cases — and save a ton.

Refinancing lets you pay off your current debt with a new loan at a lower rate. Your monthly payment will go down, so it’s possible you could save at least $1,200 each year.

Compare loan offers from multiple lenders to make sure you’re getting the best rate possible.

8. Chase your unclaimed tax refunds

Tax Refund
Derek Hatfield / Shutterstock

Check with the IRS to see if you may be missing any tax refunds.

The tax agency says the average refund paid to taxpayers in both 2019 and 2020 has been $2,741 — well above that $1,200 coronavirus relief payment amount.

You can amend your previous tax returns for up to three years if you were eligible for a refund but neglected to claim it.

The tax agency recently put out a last call for taxpayers to claim more than $1.5 billion in refunds from 2016 returns filed in 2017.

9. Sell your stuff online

Old antiques and retro collectibles memorabilia dumped in a huge pile.
BrAt82 / Shutterstock

Got an attic or closet full of old toys and other pieces of your childhood you’ve been clinging to for too long? Maybe it’s time to cash in that stuff.

Your toys from the 1970s and ’80s could be worth hundreds of dollars on eBay — maybe way more than a $1,200 stimulus payment. If you’ve never sold things on eBay before, getting started is fairly simple.

For your old electronics, books and movies, use a buyback service that will take those items off your hands, and give you cash for them.

We did a comparison test of the top services online and found Decluttr pays up to one-third more than competitors.

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