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First and second stimulus checks: 9 things everyone should know



Here’s what’s happening with a second stimulus check.

Angela Lang/CNET

Trying to keep up with the news about stimulus checks can be frustrating, especially since Congress hasn’t agreed on a second payment yet. Many questions still remain about what’s happening with negotiations (we’ll update you daily), when a second check might realistically come (we’ve mapped out when it could arrive for you) and how eligibility could change with a second check (we have some clues). 

We’ve sifted through the stimulus bill proposals, the IRS websites and watched a whole lot of C-Span seeking answers to pressing questions about the first stimulus payment… and the second check that’s been under debate almost since the moment the first checks started being delivered in mid-April.

While we don’t have every answer for you, we can help explain in broad strokes what you might not know about how the IRS calculates your total sum and everything the payment has to do with your taxesyour kids — even if you’d receive your check weeks before or after your extended family and friends. We frequently update this story with new information.

1. The status of stimulus negotiations changes each day

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin say they’re making progress on language and funding for the White House’s Oct. 9 $1.8 trillion stimulus offer, which includes another direct payment for up to $1,200 for individuals, as well as a change in the status of dependents (more below). On Thursday, President Donald Trump said on the Fox Business Network he would personally raise the White House offer. 

At the same time, Senate Republicans are prepping to vote on a new standalone bill to refund the Paycheck Protection Program on Oct. 19, which would not include a stimulus check.

Mnuchin said Wednesday he isn’t confident that a larger stimulus bill will pass before the Nov. 3 election, and there’s some doubt the Senate wouldn’t pass a larger stimulus bill, preventing it from becoming law. Here’s more about the state of negotiations.

2. Exactly how the IRS calculates your stimulus payment

Did you know that in some cases you can still get stimulus money if you have kids, even if your family’s yearly earnings exceed the income limit

We go into more depth here about how the IRS arrives at a final stimulus check payment, but the bottom line is that the IRS lumps together your household’s total adjusted gross income and adds on the money allotted to qualifying dependents and then starts deducting from the total, based on your income bracket as defined by the CARES Act.

You can calculate your estimated stimulus check total now (including for a second check), but the bottom line is that even if your family income exceeds the limit — let’s say you’re married, filing jointly and have a $200,000 AGI, with one qualifying child you can still see a $400 check. Without children, you wouldn’t be eligible for a check at all.


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

Angela Lang/CNET

3. Certain eligibility changes could bring you more money in different ways

While we expect a second stimulus check to largely follow the same guidelines as the first, the requirements are subject to change. That might even benefit your family. One approach redefines who counts as a qualifying dependent and would give your family $500 for each dependent you identify on your taxes, regardless of age. 

The current $1.8 trillion proposal from the White House offers a $1,000 payment per child dependent. We’ve broken down how some families would benefit more from one approach versus the other when it comes to your total payment. (Here’s how young people would qualify for their own $1,200 check.)

4. The stimulus check is supported by both parties

Democrats want it. Republicans want it. And Trump also wants to send another round of checks out to Americans. In fact, every major stimulus proposal since the first check began going out in April has included a second direct payment. 

Though a new payment is wrapped up in a bill of one form or another that has to pass both chambers of Congress and get the president’s signature, this is one element on which all sides seem to agree. 

However, a standalone bill like the one now being floated in the Senate will not include another check (see the negotiations section above). This proposal is not expected to pass the House, but the passage of any standalone aid wouldn’t necessarily mean a second stimulus check isn’t coming — it would further shift the timeline, though. 

5. The IRS could likely deliver stimulus money to you faster

The IRS has already gone through the growing pains of figuring out how to mobilize and deliver one round of stimulus money. In theory, if a second check is approved, the agency could speed up the process of sending the first batch of payments. The tracking tool is already up and running, the system is in place and it’s likely that the majority of people who qualified for a first check will also receive another.

The timeline is constantly shifting, but we mapped out potential dates a check could be sent if approved before — and after — the election.

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Next stimulus checks: What to expect


6. Different people would get their payments at different times

Not everyone gets their checks at the same time and some of that comes down to how you’re getting paid. For example, direct deposit — an electronic transfer of funds into your bank account — could happen weeks before people start to receive a paper check or prepaid EIP card in the mail. We identified five priority groups based on the first stimulus checks.

7. What to do if the IRS still owes you a check

If you’re still waiting for your first payment, there are several ways to hunt it down. As many as 9 million people still need to register with the IRS to receive the first check — the deadline is Nov. 21 and we show you how to do it. Some people with dependents received only a partial payment and are still owed money. The deadline to get that in 2020 passed Sept. 30, but we explain how you can claim it with next year’s taxes.

8. The rules and exceptions can get complicated, fast

When and if a second stimulus check does get approved, the details will require some unraveling. While some situations are straightforward, other complications about you and your dependents may make it unclear if you’re eligible and for how much. Fringe cases abound. 

For example:


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

Sarah Tew/CNET

9. You don’t have to pay taxes on stimulus money

The IRS doesn’t consider stimulus money to be income, and 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 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. Here’s everything to know about stimulus checks and taxes.

There’s much more to know about other government payments during the pandemic, including a possible interest check from the IRS and where the $300 federal unemployment benefit is now.

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