9 ways to make your own stimulus check (and forget Congress)

Emilee Geist

For a while there, it was looking pretty certain that Americans were going to get another round of those $1,200 coronavirus “stimulus checks.”

Democrats, Republicans and the White House all said they wanted to give out more money to relieve financial pain and stimulate the economy, and the U.S. House voted in May to provide fresh payments. But stimulus money was missing from a COVID-19 relief bill that was just introduced in the Senate — and promptly died.

If you could use another $1,200 right now, why wait around while Washington plays the usual games? Here’s a better game: look around and find your own sources of cash, to give yourself a stimulus check. Check out these nine ways to create one on your own.

1. Curb your car insurance costs

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If you’re like most people, your car insurance is due every six months. It’s very easy to get complacent and just blindly keep paying your premiums — which is how you wind up paying too much.

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, compare rates from several insurers to make sure 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.

2. Find your long-lost money

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You may have some money sitting out there, maybe in an old account, that you’ve totally forgotten about. That’s surprisingly common.

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.

(You’ll want to be more careful about notifying beneficiaries when you buy your own life insurance policy.)

3. Claim your unclaimed tax refunds

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Check with the IRS to see if there are any tax refunds you’re missing.

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.

4. Refinance your mortgage

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If you’re a homeowner with a mortgage, you might easily create a $1,200 stimulus payment for yourself by refinancing to one of today’s lowest-ever mortgage rates.

Rates on 30-year fixed-rate mortgages are currently averaging a record 2.86% in the survey from mortgage company Freddie Mac. With rates that low, 19.3 million homeowners could save an average $299 a month by refinancing, according to estimates from Black Knight.

The mortgage data firm says you’re a good refi candidate if own at least 20% of your home, 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.

When you refinance, you will have to pay closing costs of anywhere from 2% to 5% of your loan amount. You could: try to reduce closing costs via negotiation; have them rolled into your mortgage; ask the lender to cover some or all of the costs in exchange for giving you a slightly higher interest rate.

5. Earn money through a side hustle

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If you’ve got a hobby or some special skills or talents, you might be able to land some side work to earn the equivalent of a second stimulus check.

Do you write? Know website or graphic design? Have a knack for doing celebrity impressions? You can use an online marketplace for gig work and find someone looking to pay for your unique services.

It’s sort of like online dating: You just create a profile describing what you can offer, and people will contact you if you’ve got 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.

6. Find savings on your home or renters insurance

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

LendingTree’s ValuePenguin site found that annual rates in Florida can vary by more than $1,500 for coverage that’s nearly identical.

You might miss out on discounts, too. A popular one is for “bundling,” if you buy both your auto insurance and your home or renters insurance from the same insurance company.

A comparison shopping site will let you size up quotes from hundreds of insurers for free, to see the best deals available in your area.

7. Get money for doing your regular shopping

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Cash-back cards are a great way to get a bit of money back every time you buy gas or food, and the money that’s returned to your wallet can really add up.

There are cash-back cards that allow you to earn up to 10% back on your purchases, and often the cards come with generous sign-up bonuses — which can put you a big step closer to giving yourself that second stimulus check you probably won’t get from Uncle Sam.

For example, you might get an extra $100 if you spend $1,000 with the card during the first 60 days.

You could score the bonus just by putting all of your regular expenses — including your groceries, utilities and cellphone bill — on the card. Not only will you earn the bonus, but you’ll also get cash back on all of that spending.

8. Sell your stuff

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Are your closets full of old toys and other pieces of your childhood you’ve been hanging onto for too many years? Maybe it’s time to cash in that stuff.

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

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

MoneyWise did a comparison test of the top services online and found Decluttr pays up to 33% more than competitors.

Just type in the specs of your item, or use the Decluttr app to scan the barcode, and you’ll get a quote. Then, put your stuff in a box, stick on the free shipping label, and drop it off at the nearest UPS store. Once Decluttr receives the package, you’ll be paid via PayPal or direct deposit.

9. Cut the cost of your student loans

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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.

But here’s something you might not know: Interest rates on private student loans are at all-time lows — down to just 1% in some cases — and refinancing your loan can save you a bundle.

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.

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