January 17, 2021
Is the US still in a coronavirus recession? Here's what to know as the stimulus check debate lags

Yes, your second stimulus check could be smaller if…


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If a second check goes through, you may not get the full $1,200 per adult.


Angela Lang/CNET

A bipartisan group of lawmakers is set to roll out a proposal for short-term economic relief package this week that skips over a second stimulus check. If the plan is approved, that doesn’t mean another check is coming; it just means you may need to wait a little longer.

“There may be a stimulus check, but that would be part of a different piece of legislation,” Sen. Bill Cassidy, a Republican member of the bipartisan group, said on Fox News Sunday.

If talks on a second direct payment tip into 2021, negotiations will fall to President-elect Joe Biden’s administration. What we know now is that when and if Congress signs off on another cash payment for individuals and families, not everyone will get the entire sum.

See, that $1,200 is the maximum cap per adult, with more money for those with eligible dependents. But if the stimulus qualifications change in another bill, or if your life circumstances have altered, the amount of money you could see in another check could potentially be smaller.

For now, all we can do is watch and wait. But if another check does get the green light, the first wave of stimulus payments could come quickly. Here’s what you need to know about who could see a smaller direct payment (or none at all) and why. This story was recently updated with new information.


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One fact you should know about stimulus checks

In the first round of stimulus checks sent out starting in March, the IRS for the most part used your most recent federal tax return (2019 0r 2018) when calculating your total payment (people who don’t ordinarily file tax returns were in many cases eligible as well). But some people who qualified for a check have experienced personal or financial changes after filing that could affect a future payment one way or another. 

Did you start a new job or earn more money this year?

Your adjusted gross income, or AGI, is a term normally used for the IRS’ yearly tax return to describe your total income, including assets (like stock sales, credits and deductions or an inheritance, for example) that fall outside your usual paycheck. The first stimulus check, and most likely the second, will cut you off if your AGI goes above a certain income limit.

There’s a direct correlation between your tax status and stimulus checks, and any change in your AGI could increase or reduce the size of your check.

For instance, if you received the full $1,200 per qualified adult with the first stimulus check because your AGI was under the income limit, but then you got a promotion or a new job that pays more (congratulations), your check may be smaller next time — since the IRS pays out on a sliding scale. Or you may have maxed out the threshold and no longer qualify. All told, this is a “good” problem to have.

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Kids grow up, and you could be out $500 per child.


Sarah Tew/CNET

Do you have fewer child dependents today than you did before?

Age is an important factor in how much stimulus money a household gets, but maybe not the way you think. Older adults are in many cases entitled to a stimulus check. In the first round of direct payments, households were given an extra $500 for each “child dependent.” This is a legal minor who is 16 years old or younger. 

Interestingly, the IRS’ definition of a child dependent for your taxes (23 or under, and financially reliant on the tax filer) isn’t the same set of terms used for stimulus checks. 

If the rules stay the same (and there’s some indication they may not), any older dependents you claimed for the first check may have aged out of eligibility, which means you could get $500 less.

Did you change how you claim your dependents? Owe any child support?

For the most part, you can use any stimulus check you receive as you like. However, one exception spelled out in the CARES Act from March had to do with child support. If you owe child support to your kid’s other parent, you may have some or all of your stimulus check garnished. If you received an extra $500 for the way you and the other parent filed a dependency claim (it’s complicated), and then changed how you filed in your 2019 tax reserve (for example, if the other parent gained full custody), you may not get the extra $500. Here’s more information about child support situations.

Are you behind on payments to private banks or creditors?

Normally, your stimulus money can’t be garnished to pay rent or federal tax. There are a few exceptions, however, including the child support situation above. If these rules don’t change with the next stimulus bill, then there are two groups — private creditors and banks — who could legitimately seize all or part of your money from the first, and likely the second, check.

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A few entities are allowed to seize your stimulus money.


Sarah Tew/CNET

Could a new stimulus rules change affect you?

Since the terms of the second stimulus check aren’t finalized yet — and likely won’t be until the president signs a bill into law — it isn’t clear how they may or may not change. There’s also the way the IRS may interpret the law and act or withhold stimulus money. For example, after the CARES Act was signed in March, the IRS first sent people in prison and jail a stimulus check, then asked for it back and stopped issuing new checks. A recent ruling from a federal judge has started them up again. 

If this law, and others regarding citizenship status in the US, US territories or abroad, were to change, it could make someone who was eligible to receive the first payment disqualified for a second check. 

Did you give the IRS your new address when you moved?

If you moved as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and haven’t filed a change of address form with the USPS or IRS (a good step to take), the agency may not know where to send a paper check or EIP card. If you received your first stimulus delivery through direct deposit, the IRS will likely go that route again. If you changed bank accounts, you may run into a holdup or need to contact the IRS to file a further claim.

If the IRS makes an error or you miss a step, you may need to file a claim for a catch-up payment

It happened with the first check and could easily happen with the next. Clerical errors and complex rules might result in your household getting less money in a future second stimulus check than you might be entitled to — for you and your dependents. Or maybe you don’t normally need to file taxes and wind up missing a rare extra step you need to take. Perhaps you moved (see above). 

Whatever the reason, if some issue prevents you from receiving all or part of your stimulus money, you should be able to claim a rebate. The IRS is currently sorting through these stimulus payment omissions now for a wide range of groups and will likely do so again if a second check comes to be.

Has anyone in your household died since you last filed taxes?

Our condolences. If your household received a stimulus check that included a spouse or child dependent who died between your last tax filing and the receipt of the second stimulus check, the IRS is likely to send a smaller sum if your tax filing status, deductions, credits or AGI changed. If the person is recently deceased (by the time the next check arrives), the IRS will ask for the payment to be returned.

For more on stimulus, read what President-elect Joe Biden could do if another stimulus bill doesn’t go through by the time he becomes president Jan. 20, and everything you need to know about stimulus checks.



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