My ex-husband filed a joint tax return without my knowledge. He received my family’s stimulus payment — what can I do?

Dear Moneyist,

I have an estranged husband, and we have been living separately for years. He has been filing taxes jointly without my knowledge AND now he has received my stimulus money AND my kids’ stimulus money. I can’t hire an attorney because I’m poor, and I live in a rural area where there are no attorneys who will take my case without a fee.

I’ve asked a legal center how to bring this issue of financial abuse to the divorce judge and, so far, I have received no answers. I have no idea how the Internal Revenue Service will react, given that we are still legally married. I do know the money was deposited into his account. We never had joint bank accounts. My ex doesn’t communicate with me, and his phone has been off for weeks now.

He has used the pandemic to commit emotional and economic abuse. What can I do?


Dear Claudia,

You may have to wait longer for your money, but you will get it. What your husband did is fraud, it’s against the law and, in addition to facing possible criminal charges, he may also face a hefty fine for filing these taxes in your name. He forged your name on this tax return. That’s another crime. As for keeping the money your family is owed, that is the poisoned cherry on top. That’s theft. This will all come back to haunt him, and he could end up going to jail. With so many people losing out on their income during the pandemic, I’m only sorry that money you need now will take longer to reach you.

With so many people losing out on their income during the pandemic, I’m only sorry that money you need now will take longer to reach you.

— The Moneyist

You can verify your identity with the IRS here. The phone lines are open, but customer-service support is extremely limited at this time. “Each state has at least one Local Taxpayer Advocate who is independent of the local IRS office and reports directly to the National Taxpayer Advocate,” according to the agency. You can select your state here to find the phone number and address of the Taxpayer Advocate Service office nearest you. You can also write to the office in your state. Read more on how to report fraud here.

Hundreds of people have written to me wondering why they have not received their stimulus payment. One husband actually refused to give the payment to his wife. That was a textbook case of financial abuse. “Financial abuse happens when an abuser takes control of finances to prevent the other person from leaving and to maintain power in a relationship,” according to the Office on Women’s Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “An abuser may take control of all the money, withhold it, and conceal financial information from the victim.”

I’m sorry this has continued long after your divorce. Legal aid is a good first step. Sooner or later, tax shenanigans will catch up with the person trying to work the system. It’s now your husband’s turn. You have one advantage: You know why your economic impact payment did not arrive. That may seem like a small consolation at this time, but now at least you can do something about it. Given how overwhelmed the agency is at the present time, it will take some time, but you should eventually be compensated, and your former husband will learn of the severity of his crimes.

Also see: I received my ex-husband’s $1,200 stimulus check because we filed joint taxes in 2018. Should I give him the money or return it to the IRS

You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at qfottrell@marketwatch.

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Is it safer to stay at a hotel or an Airbnb during your summer vacation? ‘We need to balance sanity and risk’

When shelter-in-place orders went into effect across the country in March, many Americans quickly sought refunds for hotel bookings, airfare and travel expenses. But now that states have relaxed some social-distancing measures, Americans have gone full-circle and are planning road trips.

But when it comes to lodging you might be faced with this question: Is it safer to stay at an Airbnb or a hotel?

Leaving your home for any reason increases your chances of getting infected and spreading COVID-19, and travel is certainly no exception. That’s why the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention holds that “staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others from getting sick.”

But if appropriate precautions and considerations are taken into account in advance, you shouldn’t write off a summer getaway entirely, said Thomas Russo, chief of the division of infectious disease at the University at Buffalo.

“We need to balance sanity and risk,” Russo said. “It’s important for us to get out and reemerge from our caves but we need to do so safely.”

The CDC encourages you to consider some of these questions if you are planning a trip.

Before embarking on a trip, “travelers should research the local effects in any area they are planning to visit,” said Scott Pauley, a spokesman for the CDC. “The best source for those localized reports are the local health departments for the area they are traveling.”

‘We need to balance sanity and risk.’

— Thomas Russo, University at Buffalo

If you do travel, the CDC recommends you “pick up food at drive-throughs, curb-side restaurant service, or stores,” and practice regular social-distancing protocols, including wearing face coverings in public places.

Traveling with the people you’ve been sheltering in place with, be it family or roommates, Russo referred to as a “fixed risk.” Simply getting in a car with them won’t increase your chances of contracting coronavirus anymore than watching TV at home.

Traveling with people from outside your household, however, increases the risk of spreading the virus, he said. Consider whether you’ll be interacting with someone who is more at risk of contracting coronavirus after your vacation, he added, including older adults and people with underlying health conditions.

The case for staying at an Airbnb over a hotel

Given that person-to-person contact is believed to be the main way coronavirus spreads, experts recommend driving yourself as opposed to traveling by bus, train or airplane. “You’re bound to have fewer interactions with people than you would if you were flying,” Russo said.

For the same reason, Russo recommends staying at an Airbnb or Airbnb equivalent over a hotel. “In a hotel, it’s inevitable that you’ll have more interactions than at an Airbnb,” he said.

Related: Redfin CEO: Vacation real-estate markets are ‘toast’ because of the pandemic as Airbnb owners rush to offload their homes

Hotels are offering contactless check-ins, but elevators, narrow hallways and the risk of coming into contact with cleaning and administrative staff can make it hard to keep six feet apart from other people.

If travel from the U.S. into Canada wasn’t currently restricted he said he would have taken the vacation he booked to British Columbia where he planned to stay at a home he rented through VRBO, a home rental site owned by Expedia

In late April, Airbnb rolled out an “Enhanced Cleaning Initiative”, a set of protocols for hosts to follow which were designed by former U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy.

‘The beauty of Airbnb is that each property is unique and each host has a lot of discretion.’

— Sheryl Kline, University of Delaware

Airbnb said that these protocols would be publicly available in May. A spokesman for the company told MarketWatch that the protocol is ready but in light of recent unrest over the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis, they have been postponed.

Hosts are not required to follow the protocols, but those who do “will get a special call-out on their listing page, so guests will know they’ve committed to following more rigorous cleaning and sanitization practices,” an Airbnb post states.

That’s in line with Airbnb’s business model, said Sheryl Kline, a professor at the University of Delaware who has researched hotel hygiene.

“The beauty of Airbnb is that each property is unique and each host has a lot of discretion when it comes to creating the guest experience when renting their properties.” That may come with a downside, however. “This flexibility means they do not have the same set of standards as large hotel companies,” she added.

Given that Airbnb doesn’t inspect rental properties, it will have to “rely on the word of the hosts to determine if these new cleaning protocols are followed.”

“I would consider staying at an Airbnb if it had a four-day buffer between guests, was cleaned using their new protocols and if I rented the entire space and did not share it with the host,” she said.

The case for staying at a hotel

Hotels have less discretion when it comes to cleaning rooms, said Chip Rogers, CEO of the American Hotel and Lodging Association.

In early May the association introduced industrywide cleaning standards, which Rogers said were reviewed by the CDC. These guidelines are meant to be “baseline standards that can be applied to every hotel across the country.”

The 16 largest hotel groups in the country including Marriott

and Hyatt

have all signed off on these standards and were involved in setting them.

Also see: ‘Opening up does not mean social activities’: Your coronavirus guide to safely commuting, shopping, traveling and visiting the doctor as states reopen

Kline said that these hotels “have dramatically improved their cleaning protocols,” compared to pre-coronavirus days. “They have implemented housekeeping training programs and use the CDC and the Environmental Protection Agency’s recommended cleaners and disinfectants.”

“I would feel comfortable staying at a major chain hotel because of the standardization of hotel operating procedures,” she said.

Best practices to follow no matter where you decide to stay

Regardless of whether you choose to stay at a hotel or an Airbnb, “it is a good idea to take your own cleaning and sanitizing products and re-clean those areas that are high-touch areas,” Kline said.

High-touch areas she said include doorknobs, light switches, telephones, remote-control devices, tabletops and bathroom fixtures.

It’s not necessary to bring your own linens and towels “if you are staying at a reputable hotel or home rental.” In fact, bed linens are “most likely the cleanest item in the guest room because they are washed [after] each guest and most likely washed and changed daily,” Kline said.

However, she said she wouldn’t use the bedspread, bed scarf or decorative pillows since “they may not be washed as frequently.” Alternatively, you could always ask for them to be replaced.

And when checking in? Experts recommending bringing your own pen.

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‘One of America’s closest and most dependable allies. Rendered speechless.’ Riot police near White House hit Australian reporter with truncheon, ram cameraman

Riot police near the White House did not discriminate between the media and protestors, as they charged the crowds near the White House Monday evening, ramming a freelance cameraman Timothy Myers live on air and, according to Amelia Brace, the reporter for “Sunrise Live” in Australia, reportedly hitting another cameraman with rubber bullets.

Australia’s “Sunrise Live” news reporter Brace was reporting a block from the White House when riot police charged the crowd in an effort to clear the area for President Donald Trump to leave the White House to pose for cameras outside a church with a bible on Monday evening. “We’ve been fired at with rubber bullets. My cameraman has been hit,” she told the audience.

At that moment the police charged the crowd, and her cameraman, live on camera during the Australian morning television show broadcast. “You heard us yelling there that we were media, but they don’t care, they’re being indiscriminate,” Brace said. Footage shows the reporter being hit by a police truncheon as she walks away. Channel 7 in Australia called the actions by the riot police “wanton thuggery.”

Brett McGurk, a U.S. diplomat, lawyer, and academic who has also served in senior national security positions under Presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump — most recently, he was the Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL. He tweeted: “Here’s how this scene was viewed live in Australia. One of America’s closest and most dependable allies. Rendered speechless.”

Craig McPherson, Seven’s director of news and public affairs in Australia, said the country’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison had contacted the Australian embassy in Washington, D.C. demanding an investigation. (Earlier Monday before a photo op with a bible outside St. John’s Episcopal Church near the White House, Trump said he was “an ally of all peaceful protesters.”)


reporter Ben Siegel shared another view of the altercation with Myers and Brace on Twitter

showing riot police ramming Myers’s camera and punching the camera live on TV. Siegel’s tweet went viral, and has been retweeted over 32,000 times and liked by over 43,000 people on the social network.

The Dow Jones Industrial Index

and the S&P 500

were slightly higher Monday, as investors weighed the impact of the political unrest over the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis, as well as possible progress in COVID-19 vaccine research, and fears of further deterioration of trade and political relations with China.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average futures

fell 21 points, or 0.1%, at 25,442, while S&P 500 futures

was own 2 points, or 0.1%, to 3,051, while Nasdaq-100 futures

gained 5 points, or 0.05%, to 9,590. The markets are digesting the escalating political and social unrest, and COVID-19, and the effects that may have on corporate earnings.

Meanwhile, President Trump late Monday threatened to mobilize the U.S. military to keep the peace across the nation, following days of violent protests. Speaking at the Rose Garden of the White House, Trump derided governors for not acting more harshly against demonstrators, and said he was deploying “heavily armed” soldiers and federal police in Washington to quell protests.

‘I am mobilizing all federal and local resources, civilian and military.’

— President Trump

“I am mobilizing all federal and local resources, civilian and military, to protect the rights of law abiding Americans,” Trump said, citing the Insurrection Act of 1807. “Today I have strongly recommended to every governor to deploy the National Guard in sufficient numbers that we dominate the streets. Mayors and governors must establish an overwhelming presence until the violence is quelled.”

Washington’s mayor condemned the violent crackdown. “I imposed a curfew at 7 p.m. A full 25 minutes before the curfew & w/o provocation, federal police used munitions on peaceful protestors in front of the White House, an act that will make the job of @DCPoliceDept officers more difficult. Shameful!” Mayor Muriel Bowser tweeted.

The Rev. Mariann Budde, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, told the Washington Post that she did not know of Trump’s plans beforehand. “I am outraged,” she told the Post, saying Trump used the church “as a prop.” Budde said, “Everything he has said and done is to inflame violence. I don’t want President Trump speaking for St. John’s.”

Tensions are increasing on the streets across the U.S. New York City imposed a curfew of 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. in an effort to prevent more looting of stores after dark. Brace, meanwhile, told the “Sunrise Live” anchors in Australia on her morning broadcast moments after riot police charged the crowd, “You heard us yelling there that we were media, but they don’t care, they’re being indiscriminate.”

(Mike Murphy contributed to this story.)

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Be prepared to wash your own hair and pay a COVID-19 fee. Your trip to the hair salon won’t be the same after the lockdown

Americans on lockdown have been eagerly waiting for hair stylists and nail salons to open so they can touch up gray roots and tend to ragged cuticles.

But clients returning to salons in states where they’re back in business should brace for a radically different experience: Gone are the days when groups of friends could hang out while getting mani-pedis together. And getting your stylist caught up on your love life, or any other unnecessary chatter, is now a relic of the pre-outbreak world.

Beauty salon and barbershop clients should also prepare for the possibility of being charged higher prices, or a fee to cover the cost of extra disinfecting and equipment. They should be ready to wash their own hair before their appointment and wait in their car until it’s their turn in the chair. Many salons have ended walk-in appointments, which means the days of suddenly chopping off your hair after a traumatizing break-up are over for the time being.

Beauty salon and barbershop clients should prepare for the possibility of being charged higher prices, or a fee to cover the cost of extra disinfecting and equipment.

Going to the salon during the pandemic is “going to be a bare-bones experience,” said Steven Sleeper, executive director of the Pro Beauty Association, a trade group representing independent salon owners. “It’s going to be stripped down and back to the basics and getting your service and getting out,” he said. “It’s not going to be warm and fuzzy, at least for a while.”

For many clients, there will be no more browsing through hair serums for sale in the salon, sipping a complimentary glass of wine, or paging through magazines. Those extras have been banned in many states. Cut-throat shaves in the barbershop chair may also be another luxury that bites the dust.

Customers should assume that their salon won’t look or feel the way it did before the coronavirus pandemic swept the U.S. — and if it does, they “should be really concerned,” Sleeper said. In many states, masks are mandatory for salon employees and customers, and so are symptom and temperature checks for both parties.

No hugs, no blowouts, no unnecessary conversation

The Washington, D.C. salon Rose and Sparrow recently told clients they can only bring their phone and wallet into the salon — no purses, books or crafts allowed. Also off limits: using the bathroom, hugging your stylist, blowouts and unnecessary talking. “Please keep conversation to a minimum (we can barely breathe in these masks),” customers were told in an email.

The risk of not following such protocols was highlighted recently in Missouri, where a hair stylist may have exposed up to 140 people to the coronavirus after working for eight days while they had symptoms of the virus.

Somewhere between one-half and two-thirds of U.S. beauty salons were back in action as of late May, Sleeper estimated, operating under varying restrictions depending on which state they’re in. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention haven’t issued specific guidelines on how beauty-salon workers and barbers should protect against infecting themselves and their customers, but many states have detailed protocols the industry must follow, which the Pro Beauty Association has been tracking.

In Connecticut, for example, salons will be allowed to reopen on June 1, but services that require the removal of a face mask, like waxing upper lips or trimming beards, won’t be allowed. In Alabama, salons opened May 11 at 50% capacity, and in Florida, walk-ins and group appointments are prohibited, which could put a temporary end to the time-honored tradition of bridesmaids getting their nails done together.

Customers may also notice fewer gray heads at the salon: In states such as Arkansas and Texas, reopening guidelines suggest people age 65 and over stay home from the salon.

Some hair salons have reopened, and they aren’t quite as bustling as they were before the pandemic. Empty chairs are the new normal in states that limit the number of people who can be in a salon at one time.

Daisy McGuire

Urban Halo Salon in Arlington, Va. is warning customers about the mini envelopes often used for cash tips: “If you choose to leave a tip, please do not lick the envelope,” it says on its website. The salon is also charging a $5 “sanitation fee” — a measure many salons are taking temporarily to cover the expense of extra cleaning and equipment.

‘It’s kind of make-or-break right now to stay in business’

At Goldie x Bob, a four-chair boutique salon in Denver, Colo., customers will now see a $3 “PPE surcharge” on their bill. So far, clients seem to be fine with the extra charge, said Liz Burns, Goldie x Bob’s creative director and lead stylist. “They are so happy to be getting their hair done that they don’t care,” she told MarketWatch.

Goldie x Bob is struggling to meet pent-up demand, said co-owner Bruce Brothers, who also co-owns a Boulder salon and a Denver barbershop with his husband. At all three locations, demand was “bone-crunching” when the online booking system opened up again. “Within the first 10 minutes we were booked solid through the end of the month,” Brothers told MarketWatch.

That sounds like great news for his business, but it’s not: The salons are “suffering from under capacity,” he says. “Our 16-chair salon is restricted to five stylists and five customers at a time (no front desk allowed) and yet we have a five-figure rent in Boulder,” he said.

‘It does feel a little less energetic, but there’s also so much joy — the clients are so happy to be getting their hair done, and I think it’s given them a stronger appreciation for our industry.’

— Liz Burns, creative director and lead stylist at Goldie x Bob, a Denver salon

Goldie x Bob has added $20 to its basic haircut price; men and women both pay between $100 and $130. Burns and other employees in leadership roles also took temporary pay cuts. Overall, clients have been extremely grateful and supportive of the changes, but one customer protested the price hike, Burns said. “She thought it was a strong-arm kind of move,” she said. “I just had to explain to her the reality of it. It’s kind of make-or-break right now to stay in business.”

Only 35% of adults are comfortable visiting businesses such as salons

While salons like Goldie x Bob are seeing a surge in appointment bookings, there’s also evidence of some skittishness on consumers’ part. Only 35% of adults said they would feel comfortable visiting local, non-essential businesses such as restaurants, bars, theaters, or hair or nail salons in the coming weeks if they reopened, even with enhanced safety measures, a May 18 BankRate survey found. More than half (55%) said they thought businesses were reopening too soon, and more than 43% said they expected to shop less in public than they did before.

Higher prices are one of many changes Goldie x Bob unveiled when it reopened May 12. Clients are screened for coronavirus symptoms, and they have to sign a waiver affirming that they understand the salon’s new policies. Customers must arrive alone, with washed hair, and wait outside until contacted. Both stylist and customer must wash their hands after check-in. Clients can’t touch products displayed in the salon, and they can’t pay with cash, even for tips. The salon has also added 30 minutes to every appointment to allow time for cleaning, Burns said.

‘It does feel a little less energetic, but there’s also so much joy’

The face masks that clients are required to wear create some unusual challenges for stylists, Burns said. It can be difficult to judge how a cut looks on a client when part of their face is obscured, and it’s harder to see how a client is reacting to a stylist’s handiwork.

“You’re always kind of reading the client, their body language, their expression — but with this mask over half their face, it feels a little more impersonal,” Burns said. “When you’re using your eyes to create a shape and you can’t see part of the canvas, you just have to use your best judgment.”

With no hugs and no chitchat, clients may feel robbed of one of the unique aspects of the beauty industry: the relationship between customer and stylist, which can elevate a cut and color to a quasi-therapy session when customers are friendly with their stylists.

In many states, going to the salon could be a lonelier and quieter experience, because only a few clients and staff are allowed inside at once. Before the pandemic, Goldie x Bob was “a very social place” where customers brought along guests and clients liked to catch up with their stylists, Burns said. “Now it feels more sterile because we’re having to take safety precautions,” she said.

But while there may be less chitchat now, it will never go away completely, she added.

“I don’t think you’re ever going to stop people chatting with their stylists, masks or not. People are still doing it,” she said. “It does feel a little less energetic, but there’s also so much joy — the clients are so happy to be getting their hair done, and I think it’s given them a stronger appreciation for our industry.”

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‘A prolonged depression is virtually guaranteed without significant federal aid to state and local governments’

More than 3.1 million workers applied for unemployment benefits in the last recorded week, according to data released Thursday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That includes 1.9 million people who applied for regular state unemployment insurance, plus 1.2 million people who applied for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance or PUA. That’s a new federal program for people who are jobless, but are not eligible for traditional unemployment insurance, including those who are self-employed.

“At this point, 15 states and the District of Columbia are not yet even reporting PUA data. This means PUA claims are still being under-counted,” said Heidi Shierholz, a senior economist and director of policy at the progressive Economic Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank. “This is the 10th week in a row that initial unemployment claims are more than three times the worst week of the Great Recession.”

“The unemployment situation is going to get worse before it gets better, and unemployment benefits applications will continue to flood in,” Shierholz said, “and we should never forget that overall numbers mask the fact that recessions do not hit different race and gender groups in the same way, because of things like occupational segregation, discrimination, and other labor market disparities.”

“Policy makers need to do more,” she said. “For example, a prolonged depression is virtually guaranteed without significant federal aid to state and local governments. We also must provide more funding to state unemployment insurance agencies to hire staff to speed up processing and to make improvements to websites and other administrative infrastructure.”

Others have pushed back on fears of another Great Depression. Cullen Roche, author of the “Pragmatic Capitalism blog,” said it’s impossible to make such a prediction. “The U.S. economy is massively different than it used to be,” he wrote. “In 1929, the economy was basically a manufacturing and agriculture economy, with over 40% of GDP coming from those two sectors. In the post-war era, it became massively more diverse. Manufacturing and farming are now only 10% of GDP, and no sector makes up more than 10%.”

He said the country’s current economic status is a self-imposed recession to save lives, not an uncontrollable downturn as was the case during the Great Depression almost a century ago: “The policy response is completely different. In 1929, the government responded in all the wrong ways. It tightened monetary policy, tightened trade, tightened fiscal policy. That exacerbated all the problems that led up to the Depression.”

Dispatches from a pandemic:‘Would you risk your life for a bagel?’ A New Yorker’s 5-point guide to surviving grocery stores during the coronavirus pandemic

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases and the number of deaths continues to rise. Coronavirus had infected at least 1,759,725 people in the U.S. as of Saturday afternoon, and killed at least 103,389 people, with 29,710 deaths occurring in New York State alone, according to Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Systems Science and Engineering. Worldwide, there were 5,998,070 confirmed cases of the virus and 367,097 reported deaths.

Since the coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S. and lockdowns started in mid-March, over 40 million people have applied for jobless benefits, on an unadjusted basis. Initial claims have fallen steadily since hitting a record 6.9 million in the week ending March 28. Shierholz, however, takes a more cautious approach and calculated that approximately 34.2 million workers are now either on unemployment benefits or have applied very recently and are waiting for approval.

‘One of the most effective parts of the CARES Act should be extended well past its expiration at the end of July.’

Calculating that number is complicated. “A total of 19.1 million workers had made it through at least the first round of regular state UI processing as of May 16, and 4.1 million had filed initial UI claims on top of that but had not yet made it through the first round of processing,” she said, “and 7.8 million workers had made it through at least the first round of PUA processing by May 9, and 3.3 million had filed initial PUA claims on top of that but had not yet made it through the first round of processing.”

Roughly two-thirds of jobless people are on traditional unemployment insurance, and one-third are on PUA, Shierholz said. “Together, that is more than one in five people in the U.S. workforce,” she said. Seasonal adjustments of unemployment insurance claims data do not make sense during such an unprecedented time, she said, adding that PUA claims are only available on an unadjusted basis.

The $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act stimulus package, passed by the Senate last month, was designed to help the U.S. through the COVID-19 pandemic, of which New York City remains the epicenter. The CARES Act created a $250 billion expansion of unemployment insurance. It will pay unemployed workers $600 a week in federal money on top of whatever sum they receive in their state-level unemployment claim for a period of up to four months.

“One of the most effective parts of the CARES Act should be extended well past its expiration at the end of July — until unemployment is falling rapidly and is at a manageable level,” Shierholz added. If that extra $600 expires, millions of Americans will have less money to spend in stores, and that could lead to more unemployment, she added. Others say the extra $600 discourages lower paid people from going back to work. If the U.S. Senate and President Donald Trump pass the $3 trillion HEROES Act, it would extend the extra $600 into January 2021.

The Moneyist: My husband died from COVID-19. Will the IRS allow me to use his $1,200 stimulus check for funeral and medical expenses?

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