Even if there’s a $1,200 stimulus check, your payment could be smaller – CNET

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If a second check goes through, you may not get the full $1,200 per adult.


Angela Lang/CNET

Experience over the past eight months has taught us that lawmakers’ vision of a second stimulus check is subject to change, from how much money a person should get to would and wouldn’t qualify. So until a bill rightfully becomes a law, it’s a good rule of thumb to assume nothing — except, perhaps that you may not get the same payment total you did the first time around. While some people could see a larger second check, others might get a smaller sum.

There are several factors that could play a role in a more modest second payment, including the total monetary amount Congress sets as the cap, to a change of qualifications, or even your own life circumstances. There may be something you can do now to influence the outcome, or it may just be that you’ll get a smaller stimulus share whenever the next round arrives.  

Keep reading for what we know now about more stimulus money for this year or in early 2021. And if you’re curious, this is how to find out where in line you are to receive a second check. We regularly update this story.


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Next stimulus checks: What to expect

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Here’s the first thing you should know

Some lawmakers are advocating for a second stimulus check worth up to $1,200 per adult to make it into the next stimulus bill that’s currently under negotiation. Last week, the White House counter-offered a different proposal that would give qualified adults and children $600 apiece, The Washington Post reported.

If a final COVID-19 relief bill passed with a smaller stimulus check — and right now that’s not considered likely — then households would automatically get a smaller check than before. But even if a bill passes with a $1,200 maximum per adult, there may still be reasons you would get less per household.

Stimulus money: $600 versus $1,200 maximum

$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, 2 qualified children $1,800 maximum $2,200 maximum
Married couple, no children $1,200 maximum $2,400 maximum
Married couple, 1 qualified child $1,800 maximum $2,900 maximum
Married couple, 2 qualified children $2,400 maximum $3,400 maximum

If you began a new job or earned more money

Your adjusted gross income, or AGI, is a term normally used for the IRS’ yearly tax return to describe your total income, including assets (like stock sales, credits and deductions or an inheritance, for example) that fall outside your usual paycheck. The first stimulus check, and most likely the second, will cut you off if your AGI goes above a certain income limit.

There’s a direct correlation between your tax status and stimulus checks, and any change in your AGI could increase or reduce the size of your check.

For instance, if you received the full $1,200 per qualified adult with the first stimulus check because your AGI was under the income limit, but then you got a promotion or a new job that pays more (congratulations), your check may be smaller next time — since the IRS pays out on a sliding scale. Or you may have maxed out the threshold and no longer qualify. All told, this is a “good” problem to have.

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Kids grow up, and you could be out $500 per child.


Sarah Tew/CNET

If new changes to stimulus rules affect you

Since the terms of the second stimulus check aren’t finalized yet — and likely won’t be until the president signs a bill into law — it isn’t clear how they may or may not change. There’s also the way the IRS may interpret the law and act or withhold stimulus money. For example, after the CARES Act was signed in March, the IRS first sent people in prison and jail a stimulus check, then asked for it back and stopped issuing new checks. A recent ruling from a federal judge has started them up again. 

If this law, and others regarding citizenship status in the US, US territories or abroad, were to change, it could make someone who was eligible to receive the first payment disqualified for a second check. 

If you have fewer child dependents now

Age is an important factor in how much stimulus money a household gets, but maybe not the way you think. Older adults are in many cases entitled to a stimulus check. In the first round of direct payments, households were given an extra $500 for each “child dependent.” This is a legal minor who is 16 years old or younger. 

Interestingly, the IRS’ definition of a child dependent for your taxes (23 or under, and financially reliant on the tax filer) isn’t the same set of terms used for stimulus checks. 

If the rules stay the same (and there’s some indication they may not), any older dependents you claimed for the first check may have aged out of eligibility, which means you could get $500 less.

If you claim your dependents differently now, or owe child support

For the most part, you can use any stimulus check you receive as you like. However, one exception spelled out in the CARES Act from March had to do with child support. If you owe child support to your kid’s other parent, you may have some or all of your stimulus check garnished. If you received an extra $500 for the way you and the other parent filed a dependency claim (it’s complicated), and then changed how you filed in your 2019 tax reserve (for example, if the other parent gained full custody), you may not get the extra $500. Here’s more information about child support situations.

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A few entities are allowed to seize your stimulus money.


Sarah Tew/CNET

If you’ve fallen behind on payments to private banks or creditors

Normally, your stimulus money can’t be garnished to pay rent or federal tax. There are a few exceptions, however, including the child support situation above. If these rules don’t change with the next stimulus bill, then there are two groups — private creditors and banks — who could legitimately seize all or part of your money from the first, and likely the second, check.

If you moved and the IRS doesn’t have your new address

If you moved as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and haven’t filed a change of address form with the USPS or IRS (a good step to take), the agency may not know where to send a paper check or EIP card. If you received your first stimulus delivery through direct deposit, the IRS will likely go that route again. If you changed bank accounts, you may run into a holdup or need to contact the IRS to file a further claim.

If there’s an error and you need to file a claim for a catch-up payment

It happened with the first check and could easily happen with the next. Clerical errors and complex rules might result in your household getting less money in a future second stimulus check than you might be entitled to — for you and your dependents. Or maybe you don’t normally need to file taxes and wind up missing a rare extra step you need to take. Perhaps you moved (see above). 

Whatever the reason, if some issue prevents you from receiving all or part of your stimulus money, you should be able to claim a rebate. The IRS is currently sorting through these stimulus payment omissions now for a wide range of groups and will likely do so again if a second check comes to be.

If someone in your household has died since you last filed taxes

Our condolences. If your household received a stimulus check that included a spouse or child dependent who died between your last tax filing and the receipt of the second stimulus check, the IRS is likely to send a smaller sum if your tax filing status, deductions, credits or AGI changed. If the person is recently deceased (by the time the next check arrives), the IRS will ask for the payment to be returned.

For more on stimulus, read what President-elect Joe Biden could do if another stimulus bill doesn’t go through by the time he becomes president Jan. 20, and everything you need to know about stimulus checks.