When a couple marries and a spouse -- usually the woman -- changes names, the couple is supposed to alert the Social Security Administration. But tens of thousands have failed to do so and were unaware of the consequences until this year, when they didn't cash in on the rebate package. The package, enacted in February, resulted in payments to taxpayers of mostly $600-$1,200.
In an interview with The Associated Press last month, an Internal Revenue Service spokesman affirmed that stimulus checks would be sent only to those whose names and Social Security numbers matched.
But on Oct. 8, without fanfare, the IRS updated the question-and-answer section on its Web site to say it will mail economic stimulus payments this month to an additional 260,000 married taxpayers whose names did not match Social Security numbers.
"During the processing of the 2007 returns for these taxpayers, the IRS was able to determine that the person listed on the return actually was the person associated with the SSN," the Web site reads.
Those people should be getting letters within days telling them how much they'll get. The checks should arrive by the end of the month, according to the IRS.
The IRS blamed itself for the problem, saying married taxpayers whose names and Social Security numbers didn't match "were inadvertently omitted from the initial economic stimulus payments."
"The IRS regrets the inconvenience for these affected taxpayers and will continue to work hard to deliver stimulus payments to qualifying taxpayers," the Web site reads.
An IRS spokesman declined interview requests, and would not say if the re-evaluation was prompted by inquiries from The Associated Press or other news organizations. It was also unclear if the recent economic downturn played a role in the decision as a means of giving a boost to more people.
Either way, the news was welcomed by Sam and Elaine Vilardo, both 51, of Sinking Spring, Pa. After the couple married in 2001, she failed to register her name change with the Social Security Administration. When they called the IRS several months ago, they were told they'd have to wait until next year for the stimulus money because of that oversight.
"It's great news," Sam Vilardo said Monday. "We've already spent the money, so we might as well get the check."
Vilardo blamed procrastination for failing to get his wife's name change registered.
"After you get married you have all those paper changes," said Vilardo, a mechanical machine designer at a steel company. "You just drop the ball."
The problem with the checks affected mostly those who filed tax returns on paper rather than electronically, said Jackie Perlman, senior tax researcher for H&R Block's Tax Institute in Kansas City.
"If you e-file and have a name discrepancy you will get an immediate rejection," and thus be aware of the need to fix it, Perlman said.
The system works differently for paper returns, Perlman said. If the name and Social Security number don't match, the paper return is stamped "invalid," but is accepted. And the taxpayer isn't informed.
Perlman said the Social Security Administration and the IRS both stress through community outreach efforts the need to file name changes. Even with the checks on the way, she encouraged any married couple who has not filed for a name change to do so to avoid future headaches.
Affected couples may want to act sooner than later. A second stimulus package is being considered in Washington, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has not ruled out proposing another round of rebates.