January 27, 2021
There could be 5 different stimulus check payment groups. Which is yours?

There could be 5 different stimulus check payment groups. Which is yours?


Sarah Tew/CNET

The world of stimulus checks can be a murky place and that’s just as true for the first direct payment as it is for the second. While qualifications are typically the hardest to parse, the timeline for when a check could come your way — and who could get it first — is also tough to unravel. 

At this point, it’s more likely that a second stimulus payment of up to $1,200 a person will appear in early 2021, while negotiations for another coronavirus relief packagebegin to consolidate around a proposal that lacks a stimulus check. There’s still been strong support for a direct payment from leading political parties, including President-elect Joe Biden, so there’s a good chance we’ll see the topic resurface amidst talks on yet another COVID-19 relief package after Biden takes office.

“Right now, the full Congress should come together and pass a robust package for relief to address these urgent needs. But any package passed in a lame duck session is lucky to be at best, just a start,” Biden said Tuesday.

You might have been aware from your experience with the first stimulus check that not everyone received their money at the same time, but did you know the IRS scheduled payments by priority groups and spaced them out? In fact, the final checks from the first round are still being delivered, with the IRS wrapping up this month. Catch-up payments from errors or unclaimed checks will continue to be sent through 2021 and some will need to be claimed after Tax Season 2020 due in April (more below).

Here, we’ll give you a little more information about the priority groups and why it might happen again with a second check.

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The 5 stimulus check payment groups we know of now

When the CARES Act passed in March, it took a couple weeks for the IRS to build a tool and a procedure to figure out who was owed a check and for how much. This formula helped determine the size of your household’s total sum, but the schedule for sending checks may have felt less deliberate to some.

Under pressure to get out stimulus money fast, the speed in which you received your check often aligned with the method in which you got paid. Any kind of complication could slow it down. In addition, some calculation errors mean there are people who may not see all or any of their allotted share until the middle of 2021.

Direct deposit recipients: People who already have their direct deposit information on file with the IRS or who provide that info when and if registration opens again should be first in line to receive a stimulus check. An electronic transfer of funds is faster and more efficient, which is why this group largely got their first payment faster.

Social Security beneficiaries: With the first stimulus payment, many Social Security beneficiaries who had direct deposit information on file with the federal government received checks in the first week, though not always the first day.

People who get paper checks: The IRS began to mail checks about a week later to those without direct deposit data on file. 


When you get your stimulus money could depend on who you are.

Sarah Tew/CNET

EIP card recipients: Economic impact payment debit cards are prepaid Visa cards the IRS sent to about 4 million people starting in mid-May. If the IRS follows the same payment priority order, this group could begin to see their payment weeks after the first direct deposit transfers take place.

People with more complex situations: This category includes people who received a check after June, are still waiting to receive their stimulus payment or who didn’t know they need to complete an extra step. Direct payments will continue through the end of 2020 for some individuals who weren’t part of the previous groups. Here’s what could be holding up the stimulus check delivery for some people and how to contact the IRS to report a missing, lost or stolen check.

Is there a reason the IRS staggered the payment schedule?

There are a few reasons the IRS doesn’t send all the stimulus payments at once. One is the sheer volume of disbursements it has to process. With the first check, the IRS has said it could deliver 5 million to 7 million paper stimulus checks a week, starting with people whose adjusted gross income, or AGI, is less than $20,000, and then moving to people whose AGIs are progressively larger, according to the Government Accountability Office.

Another reason payments come at different times for different people depends on the way they get the cash. By summer, the IRS had sent money to at least 160 million people, with people the federal government had direct deposit information for receiving their checks first. 

Physical checks and EIP payments followed, creating a de facto priority order that could result in some Americans receiving their checks days or even weeks before others.


Understanding your stimulus priority group will help you set your expectations about the next check.

Angela Lang/CNET

The IRS will continue sending the first checks in December

While the majority of people in line to receive a stimulus check got theirs by the end of July, up until late November there were still millions of people who were eligible for stimulus money that hadn’t received it. That includes people who didn’t receive $500 allotted for their dependents, some who are involved in child support situations and nonfilers who may be owed a stimulus check (including older adults and people who receive SSI or SSDI). 

If you’re a US citizen abroad or live in a US territory and didn’t receive a check as expected, you may also need to investigate. And a new court ruling has made it possible for millions of people who are incarcerated to get a check, even after the IRS changed its rules to exclude this group.

The Nov. 21 deadline to claim the payment in 2020 has passed, but you’ll be able to claim a catch-up payment or error adjustment during tax season 2021.

If you’d like to see how soon you could potentially get your next stimulus check, we mapped out some speculative dates depending on which group you’re in.

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