Dependents and stimulus checks: Everything new and different you should know (even if your check came) – CNET


Requirement rules for dependents are much different this time.

Angela Lang/CNET

The second wave of third stimulus checks is on the way to eligible people this week (you can track your stimulus check delivery here). And if you’ve got dependents in your household, your check could be much larger this time than it was with the first two payments. Nearly 13.5 million more people count toward the $1,400 payments in the latest stimulus bill compared with the first two checks.

The IRS is sending out the third checks simultaneously with tax refunds, as the new stimulus bill was approved during tax season — the new due date for filing taxes is May 17. The bill has new rules surrounding who qualified as a dependent. So what does that mean if you’re missing stimulus money for dependents from the first two checks? Or if you had a new baby in 2020? What if your family has mixed-status citizenship

We’ll tell you what you need to know about your dependents (including older adults and people of all ages with disabilities) and how the changes to income limits might lower the overall amount of your stimulus check or completely leave you out. Also, here’s who the IRS defines as an adult for stimulus checks purposes and whether a fourth stimulus check could happen. This story is frequently updated.

Dependents qualify toward a third check, with no age restrictions

For the first and second stimulus checks, qualified dependents were defined as anyone age 16 or younger (here’s how the first two checks compare with the third). Each dependent counted toward the family total, with no cap on the number of child dependents claimed. That rate was $500 for each dependent as part of the first check, approved in March 2020 as part of the CARES Act, and $600 each for the second stimulus check, which was approved and sent in December.

The new bill that Biden signed into law on March 11 earmarks $1,400 per dependent of any age, to be calculated into the checks of their parents or guardians. For the first time, 17-year-olds and adult dependents (anyone 18 or older) are also eligible for a payment. This group includes around 13.5 million college students, older adults and children of all ages with certain disabilities. 

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Stimulus check 3: How much money you’ll get


How the new income limits could make families ineligible, even if they have dependents

The new third stimulus check is targeted for families with a certain income threshold. In a change this time, dependents won’t bring some families a partial payment as they did with previous checks — the income limits are absolute. (See for yourself with our $1,400 stimulus check calculator or learn how to calculate your adjusted gross income here.)

Stimulus check income limits

Qualifies for full $1,400 Does not qualify for stimulus check
Single taxpayer AGI below $75,000 AGI of $80,000 or above
Head of household AGI below $112,500 AGI of $120,000 or above
Married, filing jointly AGI below $150,000 AGI of $160,000 or above

Nonfilers may need to file a tax return to register their dependents

While many people automatically received their stimulus payments for their dependents, some will need to file a 2020 tax return, per the IRS. This is because the IRS may not have all of your dependents on file if you don’t usually file a tax return (you’re considered a nonfiler). For example, if you gained a new dependent in 2020 or if you had a baby. This also applies if you gained a dependent over the age of 16, or an older adult dependent.

You can use the IRS’ Free File tool if you make less than $72,000 a year. Once you’re on the site, select Choose an IRS Free File Offer to see a list of tax software companies you can use. The software should walk you through how to file your return and the Recovery Rebate Credit Form 1040 or Form 1040-SR for free.

See more below about how gaining dependents can affect the size of your stimulus payment.

Mixed-status families, dependents and the new stimulus check: Important information to be aware of

In addition to opening up the definition of a dependent to all ages, Biden’s $1,400 stimulus check plan also includes all mixed-status families. This means that families with noncitizen parents but US citizen children are eligible for stimulus money. 

For the second check, families with one citizen parent could receive a payment, whereas the first stimulus check blocked all families with one noncitizen spouse if they filed jointly, even if they claimed a US citizen as a dependent. The same restriction applied to a noncitizen head of household who claimed a US citizen child as part of the previous tax return. Here’s what to know about citizenship and stimulus checks.

An expansion to the child tax credit means some could get a lot more money

One way families will get even more stimulus money is through an expansion of the 2020 Child Tax Credit included in the bill. Age really is critical here. 

The new CTC rules bring the credit up to $3,600 per child under age 6, and $3,000 per child between age 6 and 17, for families that qualify. Payments will begin phasing out for individuals who make more than $75,000 and married couples who make more than $150,000. Payments will occur periodically from July through December 2021.


Your stimulus check total could dramatically jump with new rules for dependents.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Are dependents eligible to get their own stimulus checks this time?

Dependents don’t receive their own stimulus checks, but they add funds to the household’s total. With the third check, dependents of any age will add up to $1,400 each to the family’s check. The total amount of money allocated in the third payment depends on your adjusted gross income, which you can find on your taxes.

If you’ve gained more dependents since the last time you filed taxes, will that affect the size of your check? 

Yes. Parents of babies born or adopted in 2020: You can claim dependent benefits from the first two checks retroactively on your 2020 tax return. Because eligibility for the first two stimulus checks was based on your most recent tax return, babies born in 2020 were excluded from their parents’ stimulus check dependent benefits. But that money isn’t lost for good. The Recovery Rebate Credit, which you can claim as part of your 2020 tax return, will recoup that missing stimulus money, which totals up to $1,100 for qualifying babies (the $500 dependent stimulus payment from the CARES Act plus the $600 payment from the second bill in December). 

You can do this now and your eligibility for the third check will remain the same. All you have to do is file your taxes — and we recommend doing so sooner rather than later, because if you get the third check before your new dependent becomes known to the IRS, you’ll have to recoup that money when you file your taxes next year.

You can also find out if you can claim a child or another relative as your dependent on your taxes with this tool from the IRS


Stimulus checks and the Child Tax Credit aim to help lift kids out of poverty.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Dependents aren’t categorized the same for taxes and stimulus payments

In terms of federal tax regulations, a dependent falls into two categories: a qualifying child or a qualifying relative. They don’t need to be children, or directly related to you, but they do have to meet certain requirements set out by the IRS. 

To be claimed as a dependent on your taxes, a qualifying child must be either younger than 19 years old, or a student younger than 24 years old at the end of the calendar year. If, however, your child is what the IRS calls “permanently and totally disabled,” you can claim them as a dependent no matter their age. 

To claim a qualifying relative — either a child or an adult — as a dependent, they must meet other IRS criteria. This might include an elderly relative who relies on you for care. (Find out more about what older adults need to know about stimulus checks, including those who may be qualifying relative dependents.)

Even if a dependent was claimed on your tax return, only people who meet a specific definition of “child dependent” were eligible to count toward the household’s money from the first round of stimulus checks due to the requirements of the CARES Act. The same was true for the second round under the December $900 billion law: The child dependent must be age 16 or under as of your 2019 tax return to qualify for any payment. 

But the third check makes dependents of all ages, including young adults and older adults, eligible to add up to $1,400 each to your household’s total. 

Where you can find your dependents listed on your taxes  

If you filed taxes in 2018 or later, you can find your dependents listed on form 1040, US Individual Income Tax Return in the middle of the first page in a box labeled Dependents. Dependents, along with their Social Security number, relationship to you and whether they qualify for a child tax credit or credit for other dependents, will be shown there. 


Find your dependent on your 2019 tax form 1040.


Do you and your spouse share custody of a dependent but file your taxes separately?

In this case, a child can still only be claimed as a dependent on one return in a tax year. To find out who should claim the child on their return, check out the IRS information on a qualifying child of more than one person.

If you’re divorced or legally separated and share custody of a child, this is important to know

Here’s where things can get confusing. A child can only be claimed as a dependent by one taxpayer for a tax year. Typically, the child counts as the dependent of the custodial parent — the parent who the child lived with for a longer period of time during the year, even if financial support came from the other parent. However, this isn’t always the case. Find out more from the IRS here.

One situation that cropped up with the first check are parents who aren’t married and have joint custody and alternate years in which they claim each dependent child (or children) on their tax returns. In that case, both parents were eligible under the first two stimulus bills to receive the $500 per qualifying child for the first check and $600 for the second. 

But with the third stimulus check, the IRS will close this loophole. That means the $1,400-per-dependent payment should go to the parent who filed the child on their taxes most recently (the IRS will use either your 2019 or 2020 tax return, whichever it has on file). The parent who doesn’t receive a payment is not expected to be able to file for missing money on their 2021 tax return in 2022. 

Read our story about how stimulus checks impact child support payments here. And here’s more information from the IRS about the qualifying child of more than one person. 

Do dependents with disabilities affect the third payment? How so?

With the third stimulus check, the qualification of dependents of any age now means that dependents with certain disabilities count toward the household total. For tax purposes, the IRS defines this group as “permanently and totally disabled,” and these individuals also count as a child dependent on your tax return, regardless of their age. The IRS says your child falls under this category if both of the following apply:

  • The person isn’t able to engage in any substantial gainful activity because of a physical or mental condition.
  • A doctor determines the condition has lasted or can be expected to last continuously for at least a year or can lead to death.

The rule has been different for stimulus checks so far. With the first two stimulus checks, children who are disabled or aged 17 years or older were not eligible for the money allotted to child dependents, unless they were aged 16 or younger on the relevant tax return used to calculate the stimulus payment. For the third check, all dependents are eligible for a payment of up to $1,400, regardless of age or disability status. 

What if a dependent in my household died since I last filed taxes?

With the first check, if a child dependent who was listed on your last tax return has since died, it’s likely you will be sent the extra payment, as was the case for the first two checks. If you haven’t filed a new tax return or updated your information with the IRS since then, you may still get sent a payment for them. However, a payment made to someone who died before they received it should be returned to the IRS. You also can’t claim a stillborn child as a dependent, according to the IRS. 

For more information, here are all the details we know about the third stimulus check. If you still haven’t gotten your first or second check, find out how to claim a missing payment and learn how to report your missing check to the IRS.

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