January 23, 2021
Second stimulus check facts: What to know about IRS priority, eligibility, payment size

Stimulus check facts: Eligibility, amount, IRS schedule to send a second rescue payment


When will the IRS send another stimulus check? Here are some possibilities.

Angela Lang/CNET

The results of next week’s Nov. 3 election will have a huge impact on every aspect of a second stimulus check, one way or another — from what could be in the final bill to how soon the IRS will be authorized to send another check. Eligibility rules could change, which might have an effect on the total sum of your payment, and negotiations, which are currently underway, could speed up and lean one way or another depending on the outcome for Senators, Representatives and the office of US president.

While we don’t know what will happen next Tuesday, we can look at the most important stimulus payment facts as they currently stand, including how the IRS calculates your amount, the way your taxes figure in and if you may fall under more nuanced rule. The IRS may even owe you a catch-up payment, or maybe that first check just never came — we’ll show you what to do in situations like these. This story is updated regularly.

1. Hope is fading on a stimulus bill before Election Day

There could be an agreement on the final details on the stimulus bill by Nov. 3, but passing legislation is another story.

“It could happen this week in the House, but that’s up to [Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell] as to whether it would happen in the Senate and go to the president’s desk,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday. “We want to do it as soon as possible.” The Senate is scheduled to take a recess on Monday night.

Pelosi and lead White House negotiator Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin continue to talk on the phone, and Pelosi said if they don’t reach an agreement prior to the election, they’ll keep at it. “We’ll be working until we have something that the president will sign,” Politico reported Pelosi saying. “I don’t see any circumstance where the House and Senate would have a bill that the president wasn’t going to sign.”

If nothing happens this week, the two sides may not pick up the discussion again until early 2021, depending on the election results. Here are the latest details.


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

Angela Lang/CNET

2. The IRS might owe these people a catch-up payment

If you’re still waiting for your first stimulus payment, there are several ways to hunt it down. As many as 9 million people were estimated to be eligible for a first check but didn’t receive it because they needed to register with the IRS — an extra step most people didn’t have to take. The deadline is Nov. 21 and we show you how to register

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.

And if you share custody of a child but you’re not married, you may each be able to receive $500 per child dependent

3. Stimulus payment calculations may use this formula

You may be interested to know that the IRS has a formula for working out how much stimulus money you could get, and that’s what determines 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 calculations start with your household’s total adjusted gross income, add on the money allotted to qualifying dependents, and then start deducting from the total, based on your income bracket (as defined by the CARES Act). 

You can calculate how much you could get in a stimulus check now, as well as for a second check. 

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4. People who are incarcerated could qualify for stimulus money

A judge in California ruled that imprisonment should not disqualify someone from receiving a stimulus check and ordered the IRS to release payments to people who would otherwise meet the qualifications. The ruling found that the CARES Act did not specifically or legally bar this group of people from getting checks and that the IRS’ interpretation is incorrect. If this ruling holds, up to 2 million people or their families could still receive payments for incarcerated individuals.

5. People used their first stimulus checks in these ways

A new survey this week on how people in the US used their first stimulus check shed light on the economic reality of the coronavirus’ effects. The survey from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York polled 1,300 households between June and August. The study found that of the 89% who reported receiving a stimulus check ($2,400 median total):

  • 29% spent the stimulus money (on essentials, nonessentials and donations).
  • 36.4% saved their stimulus money.
  • 34.5% used it to pay down debt.

Here’s how respondents would spend a second check of $1,500, and how people used enhanced unemployment payments.

6. You could be in one of 5 payment groups

Eligible Americans got the first stimulus payment at different times, often because of the way they got paid, and a second payment would be similar. For example, people who have set up direct deposit — an electronic transfer of funds into their bank account — with the IRS could get their checks weeks before those who receive a paper check or prepaid EIP card in the mail. We identified five priority groups based on the first stimulus checks

7. Your second payment may possibly arrive quicker than the first

With the first check, the IRS learned how to mobilize and deliver stimulus money, and worked out many of the difficulties in the process. If a second check is approved, it’s likely the agency could speed up the process of sending out the first set of payments. 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 — the election.

8. New eligibility changes could allot more money for your dependents

It’s likely that a second stimulus check would largely follow the same rules and guidelines as the first. But the qualifications for who could get money are subject to change, in ways that could benefit your family. One proposed bill redefines who counts as a qualifying dependent, and would give your family $500 for each dependent you claim 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 explained how some families might benefit more from one bill than the other in terms of a total payment. (Here’s how young people could qualify for their own $1,200 check.)


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

Sarah Tew/CNET

9. There are many confusing exceptions and rules

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. There are many fringe cases.

For example:

10. You won’t have to pay taxes on any stimulus money

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. 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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