Second stimulus check for $600 or $2,000? Either way, the payment would come in waves

Laveta Brigham

Will you be first in line for a stimulus check, or last? Angela Lang/CNET Never has the second stimulus check been closer to both reality and failure. What happens next — and where you fall in line to receive another direct payment, if it happens — could make an enormous […]


Will you be first in line for a stimulus check, or last?

Angela Lang/CNET

Never has the second stimulus check been closer to both reality and failure. What happens next — and where you fall in line to receive another direct payment, if it happens — could make an enormous impact on whether your second stimulus check comes in January, weeks or months later, or not at all.

In a nutshell, President Donald Trump, who’s now in Florida for Christmas, implied this week that he may not sign the bill containing a second stimulus check and $900 billion in coronavirus relief aid — unless the size of the maximum direct payment goes from $600 to $2,000

Chaos has ensued. While on one hand, $2,000 would undoubtedly bring more relief to tens of millions of households, it also throws the viability of the entire bill into question near its very final hours.

Either way, we understand enough about the payment process to know that if any bill is signed into law, the IRS will start to send out the second stimulus check according to different payment groups, which we’ll explain below. (You can also calculate your $600-max stimulus check total.) This story is regularly updated as new information emerges.

First: People who already set up direct deposit with the IRS

People who have their direct deposit information on file with the IRS, or who quickly provide that information when and if IRS registration opens it up again, are projected to be in the first group to receive a stimulus check. An electronic transfer of funds is faster and more efficient than mailing a check, which is why this group largely got their first payment faster.

Read more: A third stimulus check in 2021? Here’s why January’s new Congress could hold the key.

“The good news is [direct deposit] is a very, very fast way of getting money into the economy. Let me emphasize: People are going to see this money at the beginning of next week,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Monday on a phone call with CNBC (before Trump spoke up).

For the first stimulus check, the IRS took 19 days to build its online tool. On April 15, it sent the first batch of stimulus checks and, in the first week, sent roughly $80 million payments to eligible recipients through direct deposit. People were encouraged to continue registering for direct deposit through May 13 as a way to get their checks faster than through the mail. Some did experience holdups with the tool or with their personal situations. But on the whole, this was the speediest method.

Here are ways you can help speed up delivery of your next check, including what we know now about signing up for direct deposit.

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Second stimulus checks: Everything you need to know


Social Security beneficiaries: Two main scenarios

With the first stimulus payment, many people who receive Social Security disbursements who also had direct deposit information on file with the federal government received checks in the first week, though not always the first day.

The IRS had a separate informational section for people who receive SSDI and SSI. Normally, people in these groups receive their federal benefits through a Direct Express card, though people in this group received their stimulus payment through a non-Direct Express bank or a paper check.

Why there could be a lag in delivery time for paper checks

With the first batch of payments, the IRS began to mail checks about a week after it processed the money for people with direct deposit data on file. The US Treasury can process between 5 million and 7 million paper stimulus checks a week in addition to checks for other federal programs, according to a Government Accountability Office report from June. 

But there’s a catch. Language in the stimulus bill institutes a cutoff of Jan. 15 for the IRS to send out payments. So anyone who doesn’t receive theirs by that date would have to claim it in early 2021 during tax season.

The timing then becomes a matter of how soon you submit your taxes for 2020 and how quickly the IRS would be able to process your return. Those two scenarios are influenced by a variety of factors. For example, people who file their returns in February would likely receive their stimulus check money — in the form of a Recovery Rebate Credit — months before people who wait until the April 15 deadline or file an extension.


When you get your stimulus money could depend on who you are.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Mailed EIP cards were last to get paid in the first round

Economic impact payment debit cards are prepaid Visa cards the IRS mailed to about 4 million people starting in mid-May, a month after the first direct deposit transfers took place. If the IRS isn’t able to get these out in the mail before Jan. 15, they would face the same issue as the paper checks.

People with more complex situations could wait the longest

For the first check, this category includes people who received a check after June, still haven’t received their full stimulus payment or who didn’t know they needed to complete an extra step. It isn’t clear what would happen if there was a problem during the process and the Recovery Rebate Credit was further delayed. It’s likely the IRS would set a different, later deadline to address clerical errors, like missing stimulus money, and other scenarios.

If you didn’t get the full amount due from the first payment, what happens next?

It isn’t always clear how much money the IRS might owe you in the event of an error. We suggest starting with our stimulus check calculator and this introduction to how the IRS tabulates your total sum. If the numbers seem lower than they should be, you might want to investigate further.

See if any of these situations could apply to you: Are you missing $500 allotted for your child dependents, or do you pay or receive child support? Are you a tax nonfiler who may be owed a stimulus check (including older adults and people who receive SSI or SSDI)?

If you’re a US citizen abroad or live in a US territory and didn’t receive a check as expected, you may also need to read up on the rules. And a court ruling has made it possible for millions of people who are incarcerated to get a check, even after the IRS changed its interpretation to exclude this group.

Depending on which group you’re in, we’ve also mapped out some speculative dates for how soon you could potentially get your next stimulus check.

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