Stimulus checks are back in the mix. These are the top facts to know now – CNET


We’ll tell you what you need to know about the next stimulus check and you.

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With 18 days left until the end of the year, Congress has a narrow window to pass a coronavirus relief package of any type before the next session of Congress begins in 2021. If lawmakers fail to pass a bill, the last remaining benefits lapse, leaving tens of millions of struggling Americans to survive for weeks before the new Congress could attempt pick up the pieces.

The contents of the bill have been a subject of fiery debate since May, with a second stimulus check once again stepping into the spotlight. A $908 billion bipartisan plan currently has the best chance of passing, despite its exclusion of a second stimulus check. Some lawmakers vow to make a $1,200 direct payment part of a final bill (more below). A counterproposal, this time from the White House, would send $600 checks now to qualified adults and their child dependents, but at the expense of $300 weekly unemployment benefits.

So what does the ongoing debate mean for a second stimulus check now or in early 2021, and what else do you need to know that could impact your total sum in another direct payment or how quickly it could arrive compared to your neighbors and friends? 

Below, we lay out the key stimulus check facts you’ll want to know now, from the current climate to forge a deal to your stimulus check rights. This story is regularly updated.

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Next stimulus checks: What to expect


A second stimulus check could still pass in 2020, if…

There’s growing momentum in Congress to send another direct payment to individuals and families. Although the $908 billion “emergency” proposal crafted by Republicans and Democrats does not include a stimulus check, many are calling for another direct payment.

“It would be a dereliction of duty if Congress adjourns for Christmas without having a vote on providing working families with direct payments,” Republican Sen. Josh Hawley said in a statement Dec. 10. Hawley has teamed up with Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent, on a plan that would amend the $908 billion plan to include a check.

“We’re not going to go home for the Christmas holidays unless we make sure that we provide for the millions of families  in this country who are suffering,” Sanders said Dec. 11

The two will push this week for an amendment to pass. If the bill drops the two most contentious issues — state and local funding and liability protection from coronavirus-related lawsuits — a stimulus check of some amount could hypothetically take its place.

Read more: Here’s how the IRS calculates your stimulus payment total

How the White House proposal could change what your household gets

In response to the $908 billion bipartisan plan, the White House proffered its own $918 billion proposal that, according to the Washington Post, would send a $600 stimulus check to each eligible adult and qualifying child dependent. That would put some money in peoples’ pockets, while also changing the ratio. The first round of checks sent $1,200 to qualifying adults and $500 to children. 

By making adult earners and child dependents equal, families with more children would see a greater benefit than individual earners or married couples with no children. To cover the cost of the checks, the White House plan would reduce federal unemployment aid.

Here’s a quick look at how the administration’s proposal could play out:

Stimulus checks: $600 versus $1,200

$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, 3 qualified children $2,400 maximum $2,700 maximum
Married couple, no children $1,200 maximum $2,400 maximum
Married couple, 1 qualified child $1,800 maximum $2,900 maximum
Married couple, 3 qualified children $3,000 maximum $3,900 maximum

If you don’t get a check in 2020, a direct payment could arrive in 2021 instead

If the easiest way to reach an agreement this year including leaving out another direct payment this year, Congress, once President-elect Joe Biden takes office in January, could send another round of payments in 2021, based on Biden’s own economic plans.

“Any package passed in lame-duck session is, at best, just a start,” he said Dec. 4.

Your check could come quicker or slower than others, based on your payment group

Eligible Americans got the first stimulus money at different times, based on five de facto priority groups. For example, people who have set up direct deposit with the IRS — an electronic transfer of funds into their bank account — are expected to get their payment weeks before those who receive a paper check or prepaid EIP card in the mail. Here’s a more detailed definition of the payment groups.


Will you get a second stimulus check? Not everyone qualifies.

Angela Lang/CNET

Why you could get more money, or less, in another check

If the eligibility requirements change with a second check, you and your family could find yourself with more money in your payment or less. For example, a new rule could potentially get you a bigger sum. But there may have also been changes to your life circumstances — such as a birth or death in the family, starting a new job or becoming unemployed — that might also make your second stimulus check smaller. Here’s how you can estimate how much you’d probably get. And here’s how the IRS determines how much money you get.

It took the IRS weeks to send the first check. Next time it could go faster

With the first check, the IRS was tasked to create an online registration and payment tracking tool, as well as a payment schedule for more than 160 million people. It took 19 days before the first wave of payments was delivered. 

The hope is that the process could go smoother and therefore faster with a second check. The tracking tool is already up and running, the system is in place and it’s probable that the majority of people who qualified for a first check would also receive another. 

The timeline is constantly changing, but we’ve mapped out potential dates a check could be sent if approved before — or after — Biden’s Jan. 20 inauguration. Here’s what you can do now to help speed up the delivery of your personal check.

Some people won’t qualify for another payment at all

With the first round of checks, Congress set income limits based on your adjusted gross income that set a line separating who did and didn’t qualify for a stimulus check. But that’s just the beginning. Your status as a dependent or adult, and your citizenship status are among the factors that also helped decide if you got all or some of the first check — and those things will likely also affect the second. Read more about stimulus payment qualifications here.


You still have a few weeks to claim a stimulus check this year.

Angela Lang/CNET

If you never got your first check, you might still be able to claim it

Guess what? The IRS might still owe you money from the first stimulus check payout. It may be that some money was left out for child dependents, or that an interpretation of a rule changed (this really happened). Or it could be that you fell through the cracks with your personal situation, that you didn’t think you qualified but you actually do and just need to take an extra step, or that some other error kept you from getting the total amount you were entitled to. Since the Nov. 21 deadline to file your claim has passed, you’ll now need to wait until tax season in 2021 to register for a payment from the IRS. Stay tuned for more information as we get closer.

This formula helps decide the size of your payment

Predicting what your payment could end up being isn’t straightforward. The IRS used a formula to determine how much stimulus money you got for the first check. Something similar for a second payment would determine whether you receive the full amount, a partial payment or far more than $1,200 if you have kids.

It also explains how you might still be able to get some stimulus money even if your family’s yearly income exceeds the limit set out by the CARES Act in March. The calculation starts with your household’s total adjusted gross income, adds on the money allotted to qualifying dependents and then deducts from the total based on your income bracket (as defined by the CARES Act). 

You don’t have to file your taxes to qualify

While taxes and stimulus checks are tied together, you don’t need to have filed a tax return to qualify for a check. If you’re over age 65, for example, and receive Supplemental Security Income or Social Security Disability Insurance, you could still qualify for a stimulus check under the CARES Act. You might need to take an extra step to request your payment (you had until Nov. 21 for the first batch) to get your check.

Your 2020 stimulus payment isn’t taxable income

The IRS doesn’t consider stimulus money to be income. That means a payment you get this year won’t reduce your refund in 2021 or increase the amount you owe when you file your 2020 tax return. You also won’t have to repay part of your stimulus check if you qualify for a lower amount in 2021. The IRS said if you didn’t receive everything you were owed this year, you can claim it as a credit on your 2020 federal income tax return by filing in 2021.

The rules and exceptions are critical, and many

If a second stimulus check is approved, there will be lots of small details, rules and exceptions that may be confusing. While some situations will be easy to understand, others concerning you and your dependents might make it unclear if you’re eligible and how much money you might receive because there are many fringe cases.

For example:

Certain issues could delay your check, such as if you recently moved.

Your stimulus money can be taken away in some cases

In most cases, your check is yours to spend or save how you want and it isn’t taxable. But there are a few situations where the federal government or a debt collector can take all or part of your check to cover a debt, such as if you owe child support.

For more information about stimulus payments, you can check in on what’s happening with stimulus negotiations right now, find out what Biden plans for a stimulus bill and see which federal benefits expire at the end of the year.