November 29, 2020
Stimulus check qualifications could change with the second payment. Here's what to look for

Will stimulus check eligibility be different the second time? What you should know now


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A change to qualifications could bring families more money.


Angela Lang/CNET

In some scenarios, a second stimulus check could amount to $1,200 with extra funds for  dependents. Since Congress hasn’t worked out the details on more relief aid, however, and the Jan. 20 inauguration is drawing closer, negotiations might spill over into 2021. President-elect Joe Biden has his own stimulus plan for the US, which includes a second check.

It’s unclear what that timeline could mean for holiday spending, but a November Franklin Templeton-Gallup study found that 37% of those surveyed planned to spend less money on gifts than in the past. However, if they had a stimulus check in hand before the end of the year, only 30% would spend less on presents this year.

As with the first stimulus payment, yearly incomeagechild support situationtax status, citizenship and the age of people in your household will probably be considered when setting the eligibility rules for the second payment. Some people might not be able to get a second payment at all.

Groups who may also still be able to claim the first stimulus payment include people who don’t file taxes, citizens who are incarcerated and people who are owed a catch-up payment for a dependent. It all gets confusing, but we’re here to help you understand everything there is to know now about eligibility rules, and we update this story frequently. Read on for more details.


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These qualifications could look different in a new bill

There still appears to be bipartisan support for more stimulus aid, though the sides are still far apart in what they want to spend. Here’s what’s in the proposals that are still on the table:

Change definition of a dependent: The CARES Act capped eligible dependents as kids age 16 and younger. One proposal this summer expanded the definition to any dependent — child or adult — you could claim on federal taxes. That means families with older kids or older adults at home could potentially see $500 more in their check total per individual if that proposal is adopted.

Read moreNobody can take your stimulus check away, right? Not quite

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If the definition of a dependent changes, your family could benefit.


Angela Lang/CNET

More money per child dependent: The most recent White House proposal would keep the definition of a child dependent, but increase the sum per individual to an extra $1,000 on the final household check. Here’s how to estimate your total stimulus money and here’s the IRS’ formula for families.

Stop seizing overdue child support: The Democrats this summer pushed to let a parent who owed child support receive a payment; the original CARES Act allowed the government to redirect payments to cover overdue support.

More clarity on people who are incarcerated: After months of back and forth, the IRS is now sending checks to those who are incarcerated and eligible for a payment. A Republican plan this summer would have excluded the payments.

Include noncitizens: The CARES Act made a Social Security number a requirement for a payment. Other proposals would have expanded the eligibility to those with an ITIN instead of a Social Security number because they are classified as a resident or nonresident alien. A Republican plan this summer would have excluded those with an ITIN.

The first payment’s income limits could also apply to a second round

Under the CARES Act, here are the income limits based on your adjusted gross income for the previous year that would qualify you for a stimulus check, assuming you met all the other requirements. (More below for people who don’t normally file taxes.)

  • You’re a single tax filer and earn less than $99,000.
  • You file as the head of a household and earn under $146,500.
  • You file jointly with a spouse and earn less than $198,000 combined.

Who could qualify for a second stimulus check

Qualifying group Likely to be covered by the final bill
Individuals An AGI of less than $99,000 (Same as CARES)
Head of household An AGI of less than $146,500 (Same as CARES)
Couple filing jointly An AGI less than $198,000 (Same as CARES)
Dependents of any age No limit (HEALS proposal; up to 3 in Heroes)
US citizens living abroad Yes, same as CARES
Citizens of US territories Likely, with payments handled by each territory’s tax authority (CARES)
SSDI and tax nonfilers Likely, but with an extra step to file (more below)
Uncertain status Could be set by court ruling or bill
Incarcerated people Excluded under CARES through IRS interpretation, judge overturned
Undocumented immigrants Qualifying “alien residents” are currently included under CARES
Disqualified group Unlikely to be covered by the final bill
Noncitizens who pay taxes (ITIN) Proposed in Heroes, unlikely to pass in Senate
Spouses, kids of ITIN filers Excluded under CARES, more below
People who owe child support Included in Heroes proposal, but excluded under CARES

Taxes are essential to how much you’ll get (even if you don’t file)

For most people, taxes and stimulus checks are tightly connected. For example, the most important factor in setting income limits is adjusted gross income, or AGI, which determines how much of the $1,200 for individuals and $2,400 for married couples you could receive if you meet the other requirements.

Our stimulus check calculator can show you how much money you could potentially expect from a second check, based on your most recent tax filing. Read below for your eligibility if you don’t typically file taxes.

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How much stimulus money you could get depends on who you are.


Angela Lang/CNET

Retired and older adults: Specific exceptions and rules could apply

Many older adults, including retirees over age 65, received a first stimulus check under the CARES Act, and would likely be eligible for a second one. For older adults and retired people, factors like your tax filingsyour AGI, your pension, if you’re part of the SSDI program (more below) and whether the IRS considers you a dependent would likely affect your chances of receiving a second payment. 

What to know if you owe child support or share custody

Due to a specific rule, if you and the other parent of your child dependent alternate years claiming your child on your tax return, you may both be entitled to receive $500 more in your first stimulus check, and in the second if that rule doesn’t change.

If you owe child support, your stimulus money may be garnished for arrears (the amount you owe).

Here’s what happens if you didn’t file a federal tax return in 2018 or 2019

People who weren’t required to file a federal income tax return in 2018 or 2019 may still be eligible to receive the first stimulus check under the CARES Act. If that guideline doesn’t change for a second stimulus check, this group would qualify again. Here are reasons you might not have been required to file:

  • You’re over 24, you’re not claimed as a dependent and your income is less than $12,200.
  • You’re married filing jointly and together your income is less than $24,400.
  • You have no income.
  • You receive federal benefits, such as Social Security or Social Security Disability Insurance. See below for more on SSDI.

With the first stimulus check, nonfilers needed to provide the IRS with some information before they could receive their payment. (If you still haven’t received a first check even though you were eligible, the IRS has extended its deadline to use its Non-Filers tool through Nov. 21.) The IRS is also reaching out to 9 million Americans who may fall into this category but who haven’t requested their payment.

Are you still eligible to get a stimulus check through SSDI or SSI?

Those who are part of the SSI or SSDI program also qualify for a check under the CARES Act. Recipients wouldn’t receive their payments via their Direct Express card, which the government typically uses to distribute federal benefits, but through a non-Direct Express bank account or as a paper check. SSDI recipients also need to use the IRS’ Non-Filers tool to request a payment for themselves and dependents.

For more, here’s what we know about the major proposals for a second stimulus package. We also have information on unemployment insurance, what you can do if you’ve lost your job, if you could receive two refund checks from the IRS and what to know about evictions.



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