Stimulus check details: Income limit, delivery, payment rights and a possible third check

Laveta Brigham

The second stimulus check is happening. We’ll help you make sense of it all. Sarah Tew/CNET The IRS and Treasury Department have four days left to automatically make second stimulus payments to the bank accounts and mailboxes of those who are eligible for the $600 second stimulus checks. Afterward, anyone […]


The second stimulus check is happening. We’ll help you make sense of it all.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The IRS and Treasury Department have four days left to automatically make second stimulus payments to the bank accounts and mailboxes of those who are eligible for the $600 second stimulus checks. Afterward, anyone still expecting relief money will need to claim it on their federal taxes this year.

And a third round of stimulus checks may not be far behind. After President-elect Joe Biden is sworn in a few days later on Jan. 20, he is expected to begin work with Congress on a multitrillion-dollar stimulus package that could include a third stimulus payment, this time for $2,000.

If you’re still waiting for the current $600 stimulus check, you may have questions: Do you qualify to get a second check, did the IRS send you the right payment amount, and what common issues could be holding up your check? We’ll explain all that, plus where you can track your second stimulus check, what your rights are and what happens if you don’t receive your stimulus payment by next week. This story was recently updated.

You have two ways to track your payments

If you’re missing your first check and waiting for your second, there are two things you can do to get some visibility into what’s going on. The first is to use the IRS’ free online Get My Payment tool. The tool can show if there’s an issue that could hold up your second stimulus payment delivery — the IRS has already bungled millions of deliveries. Make sure you read our tips on how to use it, since it isn’t always completely straightforward. 

The second method, which is specifically for people who are getting physical checks and EIP cards, is to sign up for a free USPS service that scans your mail and lets you know when it’s coming. That takes the guesswork out of the whole operation. 

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Second stimulus checks: Everything you need to know


The IRS has days to deliver $600 stimulus checks before a deadline

Second stimulus check payments have a deadline, specifically a Jan. 15 cutoff that’s part of December’s bill authorizing the money. As a result, there are now two phases for stimulus checks going out — before the deadline, and after.

Wait, what happens after the Jan. 15 cutoff?

If you don’t get your second check shortly after Jan. 15, eligible individuals will have to claim it when they file their 2020 taxes in 2021. The later you file taxes, the longer it might take to get your second stimulus check.

Can I call the IRS if there’s a problem with my stimulus check?

When the IRS facilitated sending the first stimulus checks, it sent a letter with phone numbers to call if you ran into trouble. The agency also staffed up call center representatives. That’s not the case this time around. Instead, the IRS wants you to claim your missing money using the Rebate Recovery Credit as part of your 2020 taxes and use online tools and tells you not to call. Here’s how to contact the IRS about a missing stimulus check.

$2,000 third stimulus check is building momentum

The last Congress ended without approving $2,000 checks instead of the $600 ones now going out. The next chance will come after Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20.

Biden has just sketched a framework for his administration’s high-price stimulus package and has backed a third, $2,000 stimulus check. Who would qualify is unknown, but if all the rules stay the same, we built a calculator to estimate how much you’d get with a $2,000 check. Here are eight ways you could get more money with a third stimulus check.


A Jan. 15 cutoff complicates the delivery of second stimulus checks.

Angela Lang/CNET

The $600 stimulus payment limit disqualifies more people

The second stimulus check President Donald Trump approved Dec. 27 as part of December’s new $900 billion bill reduces the total amount you will get to up to $600 per qualifying adult and $1,200 for married couples filing jointly. 

But the fact that the $600 upper cut-off limit is half the first check actually lowers the income ceiling for getting a partial payment and for getting any check at all. That’s because a sliding scale built into the stimulus check formula used by the IRS gives you the full amount up to a certain income limit, and then a partial payment up to a set amount beyond that. After a certain amount, you wouldn’t be eligible for any stimulus money. (We have a stimulus check calculator to estimate your household’s payment this second time around. Here’s what you could get with a third stimulus check.)

In other words, fewer people would be eligible to receive any amount from a $600 maximum stimulus check than they would the $1,200 or $2,000 maximum payment. For example, a single taxpayer would still get the full $600 with an adjusted gross income under $75,000, but they would not receive anything above $87,000, down from the $99,000 cap for the first check. See our guide for a breakout of the payments. A $2,000 stimulus check that uses the same formula would make more people eligible for a partial check.


You still have a few weeks to claim a stimulus check this year.

Angela Lang/CNET

Each kid counts for $100 more than the first stimulus check

The $900 billion set aside for economic stimulus changes the amount of money you’d get for qualified child dependents, a flat rate of $600. This is different from the variable rate set for eligible adults. Compared to the first direct payment, this is an increase from $500 per child dependent 16 years or younger. There is no cap on the number of children 17 and under who would contribute the household’s total.

People who don’t file taxes are eligible for a second stimulus check

While taxes and stimulus checks are tied together, you don’t need to have filed a tax return to qualify for a check. If you’re over age 65, for example, and receive Supplemental Security Income or Social Security Disability Insurance, you could still qualify for a stimulus check under the CARES Act. You might need to take an extra step to request your payment (you had until Nov. 21 for the first batch) to get your check if you don’t receive it automatically during tax season.


A battle over the third stimulus check has already begun.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Your stimulus payments are not taxable income

The IRS doesn’t consider stimulus money to be income. That means a payment you get this year won’t reduce your refund in 2021 or increase the amount you owe when you file your 2020 tax return. You also won’t have to repay part of your stimulus check if you qualify for a lower amount this year. The IRS said if you didn’t receive everything you were owed this year, you can claim it as a credit on your 2020 federal income tax return by filing in this year.

Eligibility rules and exceptions vary by situation

Now that a second stimulus check is approved, there will be lots of small details, rules and exceptions that may be confusing. While some situations will be easy to understand, others concerning you and your dependents might make it unclear if you’re eligible and how much money you might receive because fringe cases abound.

For example:

Certain issues could delay your check, such as if you recently moved.

Your second stimulus money will not be taken for debt or rent

In most cases, your check is yours to spend or save how you want and it isn’t taxable. But there were a few situations where the state or federal government or a debt collector can take all or part of your first check to cover a debt, such as if you owe child support. However, with the second check, the money can’t be used to pay past-due federal or state debts, and the payments are protected from bank garnishment and from private creditors or debt collectors.

The calculation starts with your household’s total adjusted gross income, adds on the money allotted to qualifying child dependents and then deducts from the total based on your income bracket. 

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