Stimulus check dependents: Who counts for a second payment and for how much? – CNET

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Who the IRS counts as a dependent can quickly add up to a larger check for your family.


Angela Lang/CNET

Within the next few days, Congress is planning to vote on a new $900 billion economic relief bill that contains funding for a second stimulus check for $600 per eligible American — half the maximum payment of $1,200 that was sent in the first stimulus check. That’s a smaller second payment than many have hoped for. On the other hand, the current stimulus bill is said to include dependents over the age of 16 when the second check arrives

Knowing the definition of a “dependent” for stimulus checks (versus for taxes) can help you forecast the amount of money to expect with a second stimulus check, if the current proposal passes in its current form. But we won’t officially know who’s included — or how that could play into a potential third stimulus check in 2021 — until it’s signed into law. 

How the IRS defined dependents in the first round of stimulus aid is what left some families with smaller stimulus checks than others. This was particularly true for parents with college-age children who don’t make enough money to get their own stimulus check, or older adults, like a parent or grandparent. However, some parents with dependents may not get any money at all, including those with child support situations and some complex rules regarding some parents and US citizenship.

For more on the second stimulus check and dependents, keep reading. We update this story often.

How could the definition of a dependent change for a second stimulus check?

The first stimulus payment included $500 for dependents aged 16 and younger. There was no limit to the number of children who could count as dependents, as long as they were 16 or younger and claimed by the taxpayer on their tax return, according to the Tax Foundation. 

The new stimulus bill is said to encompass all eligible Americans, including child and adult dependents, with no limit to the number of dependents. That would include adults and children who rely on you for support, such as a college student or older adult


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How much more money could another stimulus check bring on behalf of dependents? 

If the definition of a dependent is expanded as it is in the current proposal, you can in theory add $600 for any dependent you claimed in your last tax filing, regardless of their age. That’s $100 more per dependent than in the first round of payments.

Remember, the second stimulus check may raise the number of dependents you can claim, but it may also halve the total sum per adult, which could lower the overall amount your household brings in with this next payment. We calculated some examples per household here.

Also note that the total amount of money you may get in a second stimulus payment would depend on your adjusted gross income, which you can also find on your taxes.

How is this definition different from your taxes?

In terms of federal tax regulations, a dependent can fall 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 claim a qualifying child as a dependent on your taxes, they must be either younger than 19 years old, or be 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 a specific definition of “child dependent” was eligible to count toward the household’s money from the first round of stimulus checks due to the requirements of the CARES Act. In the current stimulus proposal, however, that definition has changed to include dependents of any age — including child dependents who are over age 16, and adult dependents (such as older adults). 

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Find your dependent on your 2019 tax form 1040.


IRS

Where are your dependents listed on your tax return? 

If you filed taxes in 2018 or later, you’ll find your dependents listed on form 1040, US Individual Income Tax Return. In the middle of the first page, you’ll see 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 listed there. 

What if you have more dependents now than you did the last time you did taxes? 

If a child was born or adopted into your family in 2020 and therefore not listed on your 2019 tax return, you can claim them on your 2020 tax return to get the $500 dependent stimulus payment from the CARES Act sometime in 2021. This would likely be the case should a second stimulus check be approved as well. 

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

What if you and your spouse share a child, but file 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 Qualifying Child of More Than One Person.

What if you’re divorced or legally separated and share custody of a dependent? 

Here’s where things get a little tricky. 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 the 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.

While we don’t know for sure what would happen with a second stimulus check, one case that has cropped up with the first one has been non-married parents with joint custody who alternate years in which they claim each dependent child (or children) on their tax returns. In that case, both parents were eligible under the CARES Act to receive $500 per child (for a total of $1,000 per child between them both). 

Here’s how that works: If you are a parent who did not claim your child on your 2019 return, when you file your 2020 tax return, you may be able to claim up to an additional $500 per child on that return, if you qualify to claim the child as your qualifying dependent for 2020. 

Bottom line? A parent with 50/50 custody of one or more children who did not receive a $500 payment per child as part of the stimulus package can get that money along with their tax refund after filing 2020 taxes (in 2021), regardless of whether or not the other parent received that payment for the same children in the first round of checks. Because these payments are essentially tax credits, they do not have to be repaid to the IRS, even if both unmarried parents end up with a check for the same children. (You can 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.)

What happens if your child dependent has died?

With the first check, if a dependent who was listed on your last tax return has since died, it’s likely that you were still sent the extra $500, and that they would be included in a second stimulus payment. However, a payment made to someone who died before they received it should be returned to the IRS. You also cannot claim a stillborn child as a dependent, according to the IRS. 

For more, find out if you might be qualified for a second stimulus check and how soon another payment could arrive. If you still haven’t gotten a first stimulus check, you can find out how to claim a missing payment and learn how to report your missing check to the IRS.