December 4, 2020
Joe Biden is president-elect. Every way that could impact your second stimulus check

Stimulus checks: Top 10 facts and myths to know


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The election results are in, but the future of a second stimulus check is still uncertain.


Sarah Tew/CNET

With the Republican-led Senate now back in session and the House of Representatives starting in again next Monday, the on-again, off-again negotiations could once again pick up on another economic stimulus package with a second round of checks.

There’s talk that Senate Republicans will continue to push for a smaller bill with targeted aid, and Democrats may continue to argue for a larger package. While we don’t know every detail right now about when the second set of checks could come or every requirement you’d need to get one, what we can do right now is separate fact from fiction based on what we know about the first check, and what we’ve heard about the next round.

Here’s what is a fact and what’s a myth about stimulus checks. And here’s every remaining benefit that disappears if no bill is passed before 2021.


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Next stimulus checks: What to expect



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Fact: Not everyone will qualify for a second stimulus check

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

Myth: If you qualify for a second payment, you’d get the same amount as the first time

If the eligibility requirements change with the 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 also be changes to your life circumstances — for example a birth or death, starting a new job or becoming unemployed — that might also play a role in a different check amount. Here’s how you can calculate your estimate, and here’s how the IRS determines how much money you get.

Myth: You have to file taxes to get a stimulus check

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 are 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 have until Nov. 21 for the first batch) in order to get your check.

Myth: Nobody can seize your stimulus money

In most cases, your check is yours to spend or save how you want. 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.

Fact: Stimulus payment calculations use a not-so-simple formula

Figuring out your payment is not straightforward. 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). 

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


Sarah Tew/CNET

Myth: You will pay taxes in 2021 on your 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.

Fact: The IRS prioritized payments by 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. 

Myth: Your second payment will take as long to arrive as your first did

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 Jan. 20 inauguration.

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You might have waited for a while for your first check to come in the mail.


James Martin/CNET

Fact: Eligibility requirements for a check have many rules and exceptions 

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:

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

For more information about stimulus payments, here’s what to do if you haven’t received your first payment and how to file a payment claim with the IRS if you think you’re missing all or part of your stimulus check. Here’s what’s happening with stimulus negotiations right now.



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