Stimulus check facts to know now that a second payment is back in the mix

Laveta Brigham

We’ll tell you what you need to know about the next stimulus check and you. Sarah Tew/CNET After months of conjecture that a second stimulus payment — which may or may not arrive before 2021 — would bring up to $1,200 per eligible adult, could it now be worth just $600 at most? Is there […]


We’ll tell you what you need to know about the next stimulus check and you.

Sarah Tew/CNET

After months of conjecture that a second stimulus payment — which may or may not arrive before 2021 — would bring up to $1,200 per eligible adult, could it now be worth just $600 at most? Is there any chance you might be left out altogether, or fall into a low-priority delivery group? And what’s the story with a deal right now?

Negotiators are said to be working through the weekend to get closer to a bipartisan agreement on a new economic relief package as, Congress faces mounting pressure to pass new legislation before the end of the year. The leading proposal, a $908 billion plan, addresses unemployment insurance and renter evictions, but does not include a second stimulus check. A number of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle want a direct payment to be part of the final deal.

Below, we lay out your most pressing stimulus check basics, from the current climate to forge a deal to knowing your stimulus check rights. This story is regularly updated.

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Next stimulus checks: What to expect


A second stimulus check is gaining support for 2020

There’s growing momentum in Congress to send another direct payment to individuals and families. Although the $908 billion “emergency” proposal crafted by Republicans and Democrats does not include a stimulus check, many are calling for another direct payment.

“It would be a dereliction of duty if Congress adjourns for Christmas without having a vote on providing working families with direct payments,” Republican Sen. Josh Hawley said in a statement Dec. 10. Hawley has teamed up with Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent, on a plan that would amend the $908 billion plan to include a check.

“We’re not going to go home for the Christmas holidays unless we make sure that we provide for the millions of families  in this country who are suffering,” Sanders said Dec. 11. 

Read more: Here’s how the IRS calculates your stimulus payment total

A different proposal could change what your household gets

In response to the $908 billion bipartisan plan, the White House proffered its own $918 billion proposal that, according to the Washington Post, would send a $600 stimulus check to each eligible adult and qualifying child dependent. That would put some money in peoples’ pockets, while also changing the ratio. The first round of checks sent $1,200 to qualifying adults and $500 to children. 

By making adult earners and child dependents equal, families with more children would see a greater benefit than individual earners or married couples with no children. To cover the cost of the checks, the White House plan would reduce federal unemployment aid.

Here’s a quick look at how the administration’s proposal could play out:

Stimulus checks: $600 versus $1,200

$600 stimulus check $1,200 stimulus check
Individual taxpayer, no children $600 maximum $1,200 maximum
Individual taxpayer, 1 qualified child $1,200 maximum $1,700 maximum
Individual taxpayer, 3 qualified children $2,400 maximum $2,700 maximum
Married couple, no children $1,200 maximum $2,400 maximum
Married couple, 1 qualified child $1,800 maximum $2,900 maximum
Married couple, 3 qualified children $3,000 maximum $3,900 maximum

If you don’t get a check in 2020, you might get a direct payment in 2021 instead

If the easiest way to reach an agreement this year including leaving out another direct payment this year, Congress, once President-elect Joe Biden takes office in January, could send another round of payments in 2021, based on Biden’s own economic plans.

“Any package passed in lame-duck session is, at best, just a start,” he said Dec. 4.

Your check could arrive earlier or later, depending on which payment group you’re in

Eligible Americans got the first stimulus money at different times, based on five de facto priority groups. For example, people who have set up direct deposit with the IRS — an electronic transfer of funds into their bank account — are expected to get their payment weeks before those who receive a paper check or prepaid EIP card in the mail. Here’s a more detailed definition of the payment groups.


Will you get a second stimulus check? Not everyone qualifies.

Angela Lang/CNET

Your next check may be a different amount than the last — here’s why

If the eligibility requirements change with a second check, you and your family could find yourself with more money in your payment or less. For example, a new rule could potentially get you a bigger sum. But there may have also been changes to your life circumstances — such as a birth or death in the family, starting a new job or becoming unemployed — that might also make your second stimulus check smaller. Here’s how you can estimate how much you’d probably get. And here’s how the IRS determines how much money you get.

After a stimulus check is approved, the IRS could send it out faster this time

With the first check, the IRS was tasked to create an online registration and payment tracking tool, as well as a payment schedule for more than 160 million people. It took 19 days before the first wave of payments was delivered. 

The hope is that the process could go smoother and therefore faster with a second check. The tracking tool is already up and running, the system is in place and it’s probable that the majority of people who qualified for a first check would also receive another. 

The timeline is constantly changing, but we’ve mapped out potential dates a check could be sent if approved before — or after — Biden’s Jan. 20 inauguration. Here’s what you can do now to help speed up the delivery of your personal check.

Some people won’t qualify for another payment

With the first round of checks, Congress set income limits based on your adjusted gross income that set a line separating who did and didn’t qualify for a stimulus check. But that’s just the beginning. Your status as a dependent or adult, and your citizenship status are among the factors that also helped decide if you got all or some of the first check — and those things will likely also affect the second. Read more about stimulus payment qualifications here.


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

Angela Lang/CNET

If your first check never arrived, you can still claim it

Guess what? The IRS might still owe you money from the first stimulus check payout. It may be that some money was left out for child dependents, or that an interpretation of a rule changed (this really happened). Or it could be that you fell through the cracks with your personal situation, that you didn’t think you qualified but you actually do and just need to take an extra step, or that some other error kept you from getting the total amount you were entitled to. Since the Nov. 21 deadline to file your claim has passed, you’ll now need to wait until tax season in 2021 to register for a payment from the IRS. Stay tuned for more information as we get closer.

This formula helps determine the size of your stimulus check

Predicting what your payment could end up being isn’t straightforward. The IRS used a formula to determine how much stimulus money you got for the first check. Something similar for a second payment would determine whether you receive the full amount, a partial payment or far more than $1,200 if you have kids.

It also explains how you might still be able to get some stimulus money even if your family’s yearly income exceeds the limit set out by the CARES Act in March. The calculation starts with your household’s total adjusted gross income, adds on the money allotted to qualifying dependents and then deducts from the total based on your income bracket (as defined by the CARES Act). 

You don’t have to file your taxes to get a 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.

Your 2020 stimulus payment isn’t income and won’t be taxed next year

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 in 2021. 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 2021.

Rules and exceptions will help determine who gets a check

If 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 there are many fringe cases.

For example:

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

Your stimulus money can be taken away — here’s who can seize it

In most cases, your check is yours to spend or save how you want and it isn’t taxable. But there are a few situations where the federal government or a debt collector can take all or part of your check to cover a debt, such as if you owe child support.

For more information about stimulus payments, you can check in on what’s happening with stimulus negotiations right now, find out what Biden plans for a stimulus bill and see which federal benefits expire at the end of the year.

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