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7 biggest takeaways about stimulus checks you should know

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What’s happening with a second stimulus check? We’ll tell you.


Angela Lang/CNET

Against the backdrop of next week’s presidential debate, mounting campaigns leading up to the Nov. 3 Election Day, and new jobless claims again over 800,000 last week, new hope emerges that a second stimulus check will be approved before the election.

After more than a month of stalemate, Treasury Steven Mnuchin and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have agreed to restart talks on a new economic relief bill, which could include more stimulus money for you and your family

Stimulus checks represent complex legislative actions filled with contradictions and details, but we’ve cut through the noise to focus on the most important things you need to know right now, from how a stimulus check affects your taxes to how quickly the money could arrive. We update this story often.

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High unemployment rates and a faltering economy underscore the need for more aid.


Angela Lang/CNET

Everyone wants to give you another stimulus check

There’s strong bipartisan support to provide another direct payment to people who qualify (more on that below). Republican and Democratic lawmakers, and President Donald Trump, all want a solution that includes a second stimulus check, among other measures in the relief bill (like enhanced unemployment benefits.)

In fact, provisions for a second check have been part of two proposals since the CARES Act passed in March, one authored by Democrats and one by Republicans. And another stimulus check is also expected to be in a new and smaller rescue bill Pelosi has instructed House Democrats to draft. The House of Representatives could vote on the new proposal Oct. 2.

You won’t pay taxes on stimulus money

The IRS doesn’t consider stimulus money to be income, and a payment you get this year will not 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 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 IRS could speed the process to send checks

The IRS and Treasury Department sent the the first round of stimulus payments to recipients in 19 days. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has said he could send them much faster this time, once new legislation is signed.

“I could get out 50 million payments really quickly,” and start making payments a week after a bill is signed, Mnuchin said in August. We mapped out how quickly a new check could come.

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Eligibility rules could change to your advantage

While we think a second stimulus check would largely follow the same guidelines as the first, eligibility requirements are subject to change. It might even benefit your family, if a new stimulus bill redefines who counts as a qualifying dependent.

Other notes on eligibility:

The IRS has a plan for who receives a check first

With the first check, the IRS and the Treasury Department sent checks three ways: direct deposit, physical checks and prepaid EIP cards. According to the most recent numbers from the Treasury Department (in June), this is how the nearly 160 million payments break down:

  • Direct deposit: 75%, or 120 million payments
  • Paper check: 22%, or 35 million payments
  • Prepaid EIP debit card: 3%, or 4 million payments

It’s expected you’ll receive your money fastest with direct deposit, followed by the check and then the EIP card. Read more about priority groups here. The IRS automatically picks the payment method, but is likely to reopen its portal to register for direct deposit if new legislation passes.

We already think we know how much money you could get

If you’re still waiting for your first payment or are looking for an estimate for how much a second check could include, you can use our stimulus check calculator to get an idea for how much you, your family and your dependents could expect to receive, especially if qualifications shift with another stimulus check. Our calculator tool doesn’t retain your personal details in any way. 

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Less than a quarter of eligible recipients received their payment as a check in the mail.


Sarah Tew/CNET

Payment details can get complicated, fast

When and if a second stimulus check does arrive, the details will require some unraveling. While some situations are straightforward, other complications about you and your dependents could make it unclear if you’re eligible, the size of a check you should expect and when it’s coming. Fringe cases abound. 

For example:

There’s much more to know about other government payments during the pandemic. Here’s what you need to know about a possible interest check from the IRS, the $300 federal unemployment benefit and the administration’s payroll tax cut



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