December 3, 2020
The next stimulus check is in limbo. When it comes, will your payment be larger or smaller?

Your second stimulus check might be bigger than the first. Here’s how much you could see


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How do you know how much money your next stimulus check could bring? We can help.


Sarah Tew/CNET

The negotiations to pass an economic rescue package that includes a second direct payment have yet to lead to a bipartisan agreement, but the need for additional financial relief is becoming more acute.

“This is an emergency of the highest magnitude,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said, noting that there are 20 million people out of work in the US. According to the Labor Department, initial jobless claims rose by 31,000 to hit 742,000 in the second week of November.

The most recent Republican plan, a tightly focused $500 billion bill, leaves Americans without any added financial assistance, but President-elect Joe Biden’s stimulus plan, which could come into more consideration following the Jan. 20 inauguration, does provide a second direct payment for the American people.

If approved, a second stimulus payment could look like the first stimulus payment from the spring, which was worth up to $1,200 for those who qualify, with additional financial assistance for dependents. Until Congress makes a law, we won’t know all the qualifications, when stimulus checks would be sent or who may be left out.

The deadline to file a claim for the first stimulus payment has passed, but you can still make a claim in 2021– here’s how. Read more about the potential second stimulus payment below. We recently updated this story with new information.

Here’s why you may get more in the next stimulus check than in the first

If approved as part of an economic rescue bill, a second stimulus check is expected to roughly follow the guidelines used for the first stimulus check passed in March as part of the CARES Act. It may also include changes from previous proposals, possibly even the most recent Republican offerings. For most people, the total amount you’re likely to receive is based on your adjusted gross income, or AGI, and other eligibility requirements.

Here are the scenarios in which you could receive more money from a second payment:

More people qualify as a dependent: The Democratic proposal for the next bill expands the definition of “dependent” to include anyone you can claim on your tax returns — such as children over 16 and adults under your care. So your number of dependents could increase.


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Child dependents get more money: The most recent White House proposal would keep the same age restriction for children, but double the payout to $1,000.

Your employment status changed: If you became unemployed this year or your wages dropped, that could lower your AGI, which is used to determine the payment.

You got married: Depending on several variables that include your spouse’s filing status and any new dependents, a change in marital status could result in a larger check.

You now share custody of a child: If you meet specific qualifications, you and the child’s other parent may both be entitled to claim extra stimulus money.

A rule change concerning incarcerated people becomes permanent: A federal judge has ruled that the IRS owes stimulus checks to inmates in prison who qualify. If the ruling stands, these people may be entitled to a second stimulus check.

You’re an “undocumented immigrant”: Democrats propose that undocumented US residents should be eligible for stimulus relief funds if they pay taxes, as part of the Heroes Act that passed the House of Representatives in two forms, but which is not law. If the qualification goes through, it could mean that some people who did not get a check as part of the CARES Act could get a second check. If it works retroactively, individuals may be eligible for both payments. This is contingent, along with the rest of the stimulus check qualifications, on the details of a new law. 

Here are some potential scenarios for how the two different approaches could play out for families. You can use our stimulus check calculator to get a more specific estimate for your particular situation.

You could get more for your dependents, if the rules change

There’s a good chance that the next stimulus bill will expand the qualifications for dependents one way or another. You can read more about that here or above. What we’re seeing from two different proposals (neither of them law) is that in one scenario, you could get $500 for dependents of any age. In a different scenario, you could get $1,000 per child dependent — that would mean a 16-year-old or younger.

If you have a child, see below how that could affect your family. Note there are currently additional rules for stimulus check eligibility if you pay or collect child support.

Stimulus check calculations with dependents

Scenario 1 Scenario 2 Scenario 3 Scenario 4
Tax filing status Single Head of household Married Married
2018 or 2019 tax AGI $45,000 $60,000 $160,000 $190,000
Estimated total with:
1 dependent under 17 ($1,000 total) $2,200 $2,200 $2,900 $1,400
3 dependents under 17 ($3,000 total) $4,200 $4,200 $4,900 $3,400
1 dependent of any age ($500 total) $1,700 $1,700 $2,400 $900
3 dependents of any age ($1,500 total) $2,700 $2,700 $3,400 $1,900

The next stimulus payment may actually be smaller

In the first round of stimulus checks, the IRS, for most people, based the amount on their 2019 federal tax returns if they filed them and their 2018 returns if they didn’t. But some Americans who qualified for a check experienced personal or financial changes after filing that would affect a future payment. 

You might get a smaller check if you:

Started a job or received higher pay: A change in your AGI, either because of a wage increase or a change in employment status, could reduce the check’s size.

Have fewer qualified dependents: Congress could keep the restrictive dependent requirements of the CARES Act, which was passed in March, and any dependents you claim could age out of eligibility.

Owe child support: Under the CARES Act, the government held back money to cover owed child support.

Owe money to private banks or creditors: Your stimulus money can’t be garnished to pay rent or federal tax, but these two groups could seize your check.

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The amount of stimulus money you could get in a second round of checks is still undecided. 


James Martin/CNET

What stimulus payments have to do with your taxes

With the first checks, if your financial situation changed after you filed your 2018 or 2019 tax return, you can claim that additional amount on your 2020 tax return when you file in 2021, the IRS said. You’ll likely need to take an extra step to claim your credit — the IRS will post more details closer to tax season 2020.

Also, with the first round of payments, you won’t be required to pay back a stimulus payment if, based on your 2020 tax returns, you no longer qualify for the amount you received.

Looking for more stimulus check information? Read up on all the finer points of the stimulus payment here. If you’re still waiting for your first stimulus check, here are 10 possible reasons for a delaywhat you can do if you think your payment was lost or has fallen through the cracks.



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