Second stimulus check: When will the IRS send your payment and why Jan. 15 matters – CNET


Time is once again running out to deliver a second stimulus check for potentially 160 million Americans.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Nearly a week after Congress passed a new COVID-19 relief bill, President Donald Trump signed it into law, in the process approving a second stimulus check for up to $600 per person. The schedule to send this second stimulus check was already tight, but one rule could push receipt of the payment weeks or even months back for some people.

Last week, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he could start sending out the up to $600 second stimulus checks to eligible recipients a week after the bill became law, through direct deposit, followed by paper checks and EIP cards. (Here’s how to estimate your stimulus check payment, and read up on a third stimulus check in 2021.)

Complicating matters is an already short deadline that’s baked into the language of the bill, which would likely to leave tens of millions of people to claim their money a different way. We’ll explain below.  This story updates with new information.

Why is Jan. 15, 2021, such an important date?

Jan. 15 is the cutoff date in the $900 billion stimulus bill by which time the IRS and US Treasury must stop sending checks as part of this round of delivery. If you don’t receive your full second stimulus check money by Jan. 15, you will need to claim all or part of the missing amount when you file your federal tax returns in 2021 through the Recovery Rebate Credit. You’ll also be able to claim any money the IRS still owes you from the first round of payments.

People who receive their stimulus payment through direct deposit are unlikely to be affected. But there is potentially a distinct disadvantage for people who don’t have direct deposit set up with the IRS.

Tying the delivery of a second stimulus check to the 2020 tax return will almost certainly delay delivery for many people, since a wide variance in circumstances will cause some people to file taxes as early as January and others as late as April 15, or even later if they need to request an extension. It also isn’t clear how quickly the IRS would process the payments.

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How fast would the IRS deliver my second stimulus payment?

Now that Trump has relented and signed the new stimulus bill into law, the IRS and Treasury is expected to send the first batch of payments via direct deposit as soon as next week, compared with the 19 days it took to set up the online tools and schedule distribution of the first stimulus check.

“Most of these will be direct deposits. We call them ‘checks in the mail,’ but most will be direct deposits,” Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin said Dec. 21. “It will be within three weeks. We are determined to get money in people’s pockets immediately. So that will be within three weeks.” 

As of last summer, 75% of the first round of stimulus payments were sent straight to people’s bank accounts using direct deposit, the Treasury said, which brings hope for the majority of people to receive their second payment before Jan. 15.

In the chart below, we map out a possible payment schedule for the second round of checks, plus a projection if Congress approves a third stimulus check next year, after Biden is sworn in on Jan. 20.

Possible dates a second and third stimulus check could go out

Dates for second check Dates for possible third check?
House passes final bill Dec. 21 April 5
Senate passes final bill Dec. 21 April 6
President signs Dec. 27 — Confirmed. April 7
First direct deposits issued Week of Jan 4 Week of April 12
First paper checks sent Week of Jan. 11 Week of April 19
First EIP cards sent After filing 2020 tax returns Week of April 26
Recovery Rebate Credit After filing 2020 tax returns Unknown

How long could it take to get your second stimulus check in the mail?

Since the new stimulus bill sets a Jan. 15 deadline for the IRS to send out payments, people who will receive their second stimulus check in the mail — either as a paper check or a prepaid debit card — should look for a payment in the first three weeks of January, Mnuchin said on Dec. 21. According to the Treasury, 22% of the payments as of last summer were made by paper checks and another 3% by prepaid debit cards

However, after Jan. 15, you will have to claim any money the IRS owes you with your tax filing in 2021. That could further delay your stimulus check, since the timing would hinge on:

  • When you file your 2020 taxes — the deadline could be April 15, unless you file for an extension.
  • How long it takes the IRS to process your tax return, which may also include your second stimulus check.
  • If there are any complications that arise in your specific scenario that could further delay your check.

We’ll keep our eye on the situation, which is constantly evolving. Here are the latest second stimulus check updates and here’s how you can calculate your estimated total now for a $600 per person maximum.