What are the stimulus check qualifications now and how could they change again? – CNET

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The eligibility rules shifted with a second stimulus check and look like they might change with the third as well.


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The House and Senate are ready to begin work on President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 package. “The Senate as early as [this week] will begin the process of considering a very strong COVID relief bill,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Jan. 28 on the Senate floor. On the GOP side, a group of ten Senate Republicans also plan to discussion a $600 billion counterproposal this week. Either way, part of the work in Congress this month will be working on any changes to qualifications that a third stimulus check could bring.

With the Biden plan, we already know how some of the stimulus check requirements could change for dependents and families with mixed US citizenship. And the biggest unknown for the administration’s proposal is the per-person maximum limit for the next stimulus check, which could change eligibility in more ways than one. For the Republican proposal, we know far less outside of a few income limits to qualify for their proposed $1,000 checks. We’ll go over what you should know about potential new requirements. But it’s also important to know how factors like your adjusted gross incomeage, marriage status and tax status could affect things, plus specific rules and exceptions for nonfilers and some people in child support situations

Knowing these past and future qualifications will help determine whether the IRS has sent the correct payment for you and your dependents, or if you still need to claim your full amount from the IRS or potentially even file a payment trace. In the future, it’ll help you understand if you should expect a third stimulus check and how your total may be affected. This story was recently updated.

The next stimulus check may include money for more dependents

Biden’s proposal would open up eligibility requirements to both child and adult dependents. Dependents over age 16 didn’t qualify for the first and second checks, but a change here would make college students, older adult relatives and people of any age with certain disabilities entitled to receive money as part of the household total.

That change, if it were to happen, would include roughly 13.5 million adult dependents, according to the People’s Policy Project.

Eligibility requirements for ‘mixed-status’ families changed with the second check and could again for the third

In the $900 billion stimulus package from December, a US citizen and noncitizen spouse are both eligible for a payment as long as they have Social Security numbers. This has been referred to as a “mixed-status” household when it comes to citizenship. Households with mixed US citizenship were left out of the first check.

Biden’s proposal would include all mixed-status households in a third stimulus check, potentially including families with citizen children and noncitizen parents.

It’s unclear if these previously excluded groups would receive the maximum amount. As we saw with the second stimulus check, dramatic changes can and do happen in the final moments of negotiation.

In the CARES Act from March, households with a person who wasn’t a US citizen weren’t eligible to receive a stimulus check, even if one spouse and a child were US citizens. 

Republican plan would ratchet down income limits for payments

From the few details the group has revealed, the plan from the 10 moderate Republicans would lower the income limit to qualify for their $1,000 payment. According to Ohio Senator Rob Portman, a member of the group, the plan would set a $50,000 cap for individuals and $100,000 for families, he told CNN on Sunday. In comparison, individuals start to phase out at $75,000 and families at $150,000 for the first and second checks.


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Second stimulus checks: Everything you need to know

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More people could automatically qualify for Biden’s $1,400 stimulus payment if the rules stay the same

When the dust settles on another round of stimulus check negotiations, it’s possible we won’t have a $1,400 stimulus check after all, or perhaps there will be additional rules governing who receives it.

But let’s say that a third stimulus check arrives for $1,400, or really any amount over $600, more people will automatically qualify for a partial payment than with the $600 stimulus check. That assumes that the formula the IRS uses were to stay the same, and rely on income limits based on your adjusted gross income, or AGI. (More below for people who don’t normally file taxes.) 

One way to explain how the size of the maximum ($600 and $1,200 in the case of the first two checks) can change how many people would get a check in the first place, is through the chart below. In a simplified sense, you got the whole amount if you made below a certain amount. If you made more than that, you got a partial payment. If you made “too much” money, you got nothing. 

It turns out that the lower maximum check amount in the second check dropped that income limit, so some people who got the first check didn’t get the second. In reverse, a larger third check could mean more people will get a partial check, in addition to the larger payment size overall. For the sake of simplicity, these income limits don’t include qualified children. You can use our stimulus check calculator to estimate what you’d get in a $1,400 stimulus check. 

$600 second stimulus check income limits

AGI to receive full amount (both stimulus checks) Second stimulus check upper income limit (AGI) First stimulus check upper income limit (AGI)
Single tax filer Under $75,000 $87,000 $99,000
Head of household Under $112,500 $124,500 $146,000
Married, filing jointly Under $150,00 $174,000 $198,000

The figure in the first column above represents the lower income limit to receive the full amount. Above that figure, your check amount would decrease on a sliding scale the higher your AGI, until it hits the second column, which is the most you can make before you’re disqualified. The third column represents the upper limit from the first check. 

Would dependents be eligible for $500, $600 or nothing?

With the second stimulus check, each child dependent — age 16 and younger — added $600 apiece to the household payment. There was no cap on how many children you could claim for a payment. That total increased the amount per child from $500 in the first check, even as the per-adult maximum decreased.

If the third check under Biden’s plan includes the roughly 13.5 million adult dependents who weren’t counted before, according to the People’s Policy Project, there will be some additional questions to answer. For example, it isn’t clear if all dependents would qualify for more money in a third payment, or only those who were omitted in Round 2. And we still haven’t heard if the amount for dependents would come to $500, $600 or some other amount. 

A previous stimulus check proposal advocated for a limit of three dependents of any age — time will tell if that reenters the conversation or not.

Who qualifies for a second stimulus check

Qualifying group Covered in final law
Individuals An AGI of less than $87,000
Head of household An AGI of less than $124,500
Couple filing jointly An AGI less than $174,000
Children under 17 years old $600 apiece, no limit on number of children
Families with noncitizen spouse Provided they meet other qualifications
US citizens living abroad Yes, same as CARES
Citizens of US territories Yes, same as CARES, with payments handled by each territory
SSDI and other tax nonfilers Yes, but may require an extra step to claim (more below)
Incarcerated people Initially excluded by IRS interpretation, but now included by court order
People who owe child support Excluded under CARES, but included in new bill
Disqualified groups Not covered in final law
Non-US citizens “Resident aliens” are not included
Noncitizens who pay taxes Not included if spouse is not US citizen

Noncitizens are currently not eligible for stimulus money, even if they pay taxes

The CARES Act made a Social Security number a requirement for a payment. While earlier proposals would have expanded the eligibility to those with an ITIN instead of a Social Security number because they’re classified as a resident or nonresident alien, this group of people is again excluded in the final bill text that authorized a second stimulus check. We’ll have to wait to see how this group is addressed in a third check.

Child support won’t be garnished from your second check to cover overdue payments, but there are exceptions

If you owed child support, your first stimulus payment could have been taken for arrears (the amount you owed). With the second check, those who owed child support didn’t have their payment garnished to cover past-due payments. It’s unlikely we’ll see the third stimulus check walk this back.

However, one exception seems to be for people who are missing payments of any amount and need to claim the stimulus money as a Recovery Rebate Credit in their taxes. The protection from garnishment laid out in the second check doesn’t extend to catch-up payments made in the Recovery Rebate Credit, according to the Taxpayer Advocate Service, an independent government agency that works with the IRS. That means that all or part of stimulus money received this way could potentially be seized to pay outstanding debts — the Taxpayer Advocate Service is urging the IRS to keep rebate credits intact.

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The definition of a child dependent did not change with a second stimulus check, but could shift with a third.


Angela Lang/CNET

People who are incarcerated are eligible to get a stimulus check according to the current law

After months of back and forth, the IRS was ordered by a federal judge to send the first stimulus checks to people who are incarcerated. They are not excluded from the new law, which means eligibility for this group currently stands. It’s unclear if there will be any more details in the third stimulus check bill, though this is more likely to continue as a matter of interpretation, as it is now.

If you’re an older adult or retired, this is what could affect your payment

Many older adults, including retirees over age 65, received a first stimulus check under the CARES Act and will be eligible for a second one. For older adults and retired people, factors like your tax filingsyour AGI, your pension and if you’re part of the SSI or SSDI program (more below) will affect if you receive a second payment. 

The third stimulus check could make older adult dependents eligible to receive more money on behalf of the household. Here’s how to determine if you qualify for your own stimulus check or count as a dependent.

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How much stimulus money you could get depends on who you are.


Angela Lang/CNET

Nonfilers are still eligible for stimulus checks, but they have to take an additional step 

With the second payment, the IRS will use your 2019 tax returns to determine eligibility. Nonfilers, who weren’t required to file a federal income tax return in 2018 or 2019, may still be eligible to receive the first stimulus check under the CARES Act. And this group will qualify again. Here are reasons you might not have been required to file:

If you still haven’t received a first or second check even though you were eligible, you can claim it on your taxes in 2021 as a Recovery Rebate Credit.

People who receive SSI or SSDI are usually qualified for a payment

Those who are part of the SSI or SSDI programs qualified for a check under the CARES Act. Recipients wouldn’t receive their payments via their Direct Express card, which the government typically uses to distribute federal benefits, but through a non-Direct Express bank account or as a paper check. SSDI recipients can file next year to request a payment for themselves and their dependents.

In the December bill, these recipients will again qualify to receive payments, along with Railroad Retirement Board and Veterans Administration beneficiaries.

How your taxes and stimulus check eligibility are related

For most people, taxes and stimulus checks are tightly connected. For example, the most important factor in setting income limits is AGI, which determines how much of the total amount you could receive, be it $600 or $1,200 for individuals and $1,200 or $2,400 for married couples (excluding children for now). The same will hold true with a third stimulus check.

Read more below for your eligibility if you don’t typically file taxes.

For more information, here are the top things to know about stimulus checks today, everything you need to understand about stimulus checks and your taxes and what’s happening with a third stimulus check now.