Stimulus check timeline: We map out when your next payment could arrive – CNET

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A new stimulus check is on the horizon.


Sarah Tew/CNET

The third stimulus check could come hot on the heels of the second payment, with new proposals and timelines appearing at a regular clip, in contrast to the often slow pace of consensus lawmaking. There are three things that have to happen to get a third stimulus check for $1,400 out the door. First, lawmakers and leaders have to agree on a suite of qualifications that govern who will and won’t get the full stimulus check amount. Second, the bill has to pass both chambers of Congress (that isn’t always easy) and third, the IRS will have to calculate and process a third payment — which would likely happen in the middle of tax season, further complicating matters.

This $1,400 stimulus check is already complicated as is, but new eligible groups and a “targeted” check amount add more dimensions that need to be worked out before a bill can come to a vote. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is aiming for President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus package to clear the House Feb. 22 (using this technique), which would line it up to arrive sooner than the previously forecast date of March 14. “Absolutely. Without any question. Before then,” Pelosi said Feb. 5.

When you actually receive your personal payment is another question. The gap between the time Congress might approve a $1,400 stimulus check and when it lands in your bank account or mailbox could differ depending on which payment group you’re part of. We’ve mapped out possible dates and explore questions about 2020 tax season below. This story has updated with new information.

Next stimulus payment schedule: 2 possible timelines

The stimulus check timeline is no sure thing. If all the pieces come together — the latest proposal stitches into place, negotiations go smoothly and a vote arrives without delay — it’s conceivable that a stimulus package passes before March with a third stimulus check intact. A delay of any sort could push it back days or even weeks.

We’ve mapped out some hypothetical dates for two situations: if a bill were to pass before the end of February, or by March 14, a date when some existing benefits lapse. The chart below highlights when the IRS could potentially send the next stimulus check, based on how quickly the IRS processed and sent out the second stimulus payments. 

Note that different payment groups by method (direct depositphysical checks and EIP cards) may begin to show up at different times. And it could take weeks for people in a group to all get their funds, so consider these dates a starting point only, and read on for more details. We’ll refresh these dates as the situation changes in Washington.

When could the next stimulus check possibly arrive?

Stimulus check passes Congress Friday, Feb. 26 Friday, March 12
Stimulus bill signed into law Monday, March 1 Sunday, March 14
First direct deposit check sent Week of March 8 Week of March 22
First paper checks sent Week of March 15 Week of March 29
First EIP cards sent Week of March 22 Week of April 5
Claims for missing stimulus money open (after tax season ends) May 3 May 3

Your stimulus payment group priority could be fluid

This is an important question. Direct deposit recipients typically get their stimulus checks faster, as evidenced by the first two rounds of payments. But both times there have been issues involving deposits going to temporary accounts, which were rejected by banks.

The IRS told CNET in January that some people who received a physical check or EIP card the first time may get paid by the other method the second time around. And, anecdotally, we’ve heard of people who received direct deposit payments the first time finally getting an EIP card in the mail — and not an electronic bank transfer — two weeks after the IRS tool said the payment was issued.

Our recommendation is to make sure you have direct deposit set up with the IRS as part of your 2020 tax return, if you ordinarily file taxes. We also suggest you attempt to file them quickly, so you’re set with your most recent financial information.

The other payment groups loosely defined (by us) include Social Security beneficiaries, who received payments a different way the first time if they’re part of the SSI or SSDI programs, and people with more complex scenarios that could lead to potential issues or holdups receiving their money. People in different child support situations have been one example, and so have people who are incarcerated, as well as those with complex citizenship scenarios.


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Stimulus check No. 3: What you need to know

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How fast could the IRS send all the third stimulus checks?

In fewer than three weeks from the date the second stimulus bill passed in December, the IRS and Treasury sent about 147 million payments. That was a tremendously fast turnaround. Back in March, it took the IRS 19 days after the first stimulus bill passed to the first check being issued. 

The Dec. 27 stimulus package gave the IRS just 17 days total, including weekends, to legally send out the payments, though some people have reported they received their EIP cards two weeks after the date the IRS tool said it had shipped. (If you didn’t get yours, you have to claim it as part of tax season 2020.)

There was one notable direct deposit error as a result of the IRS’ rush to get payments delivered, and people who didn’t get their payment may now have to wait weeks or months for their second checks. But the scenario suggests that if the protocols are in place, the IRS could theoretically ship out third stimulus checks within days and weeks, rather than weeks and months.

As an interesting data point, the IRS was able to process between 5 and 7 million a week with the first stimulus check, according to a government report from June.

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How you get your second stimulus check could influence how soon your payment arrives.


Sarah Tew/CNET

Yes, tax season could impact a new stimulus payment

If a stimulus check is approved anytime before April 15, it falls in the middle of tax season. How would the IRS and Treasury handle a third stimulus check, and would the IRS calculate your stimulus check total using your 2019 income or your 2020 tax return

We don’t know exactly. The latest proposal from Democrats, the controlling party, would base payments on either 2019 or 2020 taxes, but plan to provide the full sum for the 2020 tax return, according to The Washington Post. The IRS might take several months to process how your 2020 taxes would align with the third stimulus check, the Post said.

Here’s another thing to consider: Would the IRS and Treasury send a separate check or attempt to bundle them in with the Recovery Rebate Credit for missing money from the first two checks? Either way, the agencies would have little time or available resources to process the third checks, or to change its protocol to wrap the second into taxes.

By mid-March, tens of millions of Americans may have already received their tax refunds, which could make it tricky for the IRS to straighten out problems or redact refunds after issuing. Things could get complex whether the IRS attempts to fold a third check delivery into the remaining tax cycle or to send a payment separately. 

How would you be able to potentially get your third stimulus check faster?

There may be a few things you can do to help speed up receipt of a third payment, assuming it happens. For example, signing up for direct deposit in your 2020 tax return would put you in the priority category for a third stimulus payment. 

And if you’ve moved recently, tell the IRS and USPS. Here are our other suggestions for how people can make it more likely they’ll get their second checks faster. Note that there could be some changes to qualifications that may not apply to a possible third stimulus check.

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The first and second stimulus checks were nominally sorted by different payment groups, and one had a clear advantage over the others.


Sarah Tew/CNET

Would the IRS have to meet a deadline for sending out checks?

The Jan. 15 deadline set for the second stimulus check was written into the text of the bill without explanation. It isn’t immediately clear if the bill text would adopt another cutoff in the future, or if that was a one-time consideration that took into account the IRS’ overlapping need to process stimulus checks and prepare for the 2020 tax season. Last year, the April 15 tax date was extended to July 15.

The two overlap with the second stimulus check in that anyone who didn’t receive all or part of their second payment must claim it as part of the IRS’ Recovery Rebate Credit on their tax return — even if they have nonfiler status and aren’t typically required to file taxes.

Is a third stimulus check definitely going to happen?

A bill that includes a stimulus payment isn’t a done deal until it’s signed into law. That said, Biden appears determined to drive forward a $1,400 check as part of his overarching stimulus plan, and Democrats in Congress have paved the way to push a bill through Republican opposition using a tool called budget reconciliation

Here’s everything you need to know about stimulus checks in general, including what to do if you run into problems with either of the first two payments.