3 things decide how fast your stimulus check will arrive. What to know, including key dates

February 21, 2021 0 By boss



More stimulus money could be headed your way before the end of March. Here’s everything we know right now.

Sarah Tew/CNET

It seems like such a simple question: When will a potential new third stimulus check arrive? The answer is anything but. Although President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus package is moving at a lightning pace compared to debate around the second payment there are a number of twists and turns that could slow down or otherwise complicate when you’d get new stimulus money, for up to $1,400 per person.

Although you could see significantly more money in a new stimulus payment, even one that changes the formula to become more “targeted” (here’s who might not qualify) the date you could personally expect to receive a third stimulus payment is still a little squishy. We know the House of Representatives will mark up the proposal it has so far and intends to bring the bill to a vote by the end of next week. We know Democrats want a bill approved by March 14. And we know details of the plan to lob the stimulus package past Republican opposition for faster approval.

But the March 14 goal to pass the bill is just one factor. Another is how long it could take the IRS to begin calculating the stimulus payments and a third is which payment group you’d be in to receive it — that designation has changed before and could change again. Below, we map out possible dates and explore questions about the arrival of a third check during 2020 tax season. This story is frequently updated.

Potential stimulus check timeline: When your check could arrive

If a stimulus bill passes by March 14, we can take an educated guess as to when the IRS could start sending the first payments, based on how quickly the IRS turned around the previous check. Even so, many uncertainties remain. 

For example, it’s possible negotiations could slip a week while politicians work to finalize the bill. If the Senate makes changes, it would go back to the House for a vote which could lead to delays — the timeline to hit March 14 is already tight for the pace of legislation. In addition, the IRS is also dealing with tax returns, and it isn’t clear how the agency and new Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen would prioritize delivering a third check and processing tax returns.

We also expect the IRS to prioritize payment groups the same way it did with the first two checks: By groups we mean people who receive stimulus payments via direct deposit, as physical checks or on EIP cards. Keep reading to see why your group could change and what, if anything, you can do about it. It could take weeks for the IRS to process every group’s funds, so consider the possible dates below as just a starting point. We refresh these dates as the situation evolves.

When could the next stimulus check possibly arrive?

Stimulus check passes Congress Friday, March 12 Monday, March 22
Stimulus bill signed into law Sunday, March 14 Tuesday, March 23
First direct deposit check sent Week of March 22 Week of March 29
First paper checks sent Week of March 29 Week of April 5
First EIP cards sent Week of April 5 Week of April 12
Claims for missing stimulus money open May 3 May 3

Which payment group you could be in, why it could still change

When you get your stimulus money may depend on how you get it. That was largely true with the first two checks (there are always some exceptions) and would likely play out similarly the third time around. Direct-deposit recipients typically get their stimulus money faster, as evidenced by how the government handled the first two rounds of payments in March and December. But both times there were issues involving deposits going to temporary accounts that were rejected by banks.

The IRS told CNET in January that some people who received a physical check or EIP card the first time may get paid by the other method the second time around. And, anecdotally, we’ve heard of people who received direct deposit payments the first time finally getting an EIP card in the mail — and not an electronic bank transfer — weeks after the IRS tool said the payment was issued. 

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Stimulus check No. 3: What you need to know


While you won’t have the final say in how you get your payment, we recommend signing up for direct deposit with the IRS when you submit your 2020 tax return, if you ordinarily file taxes. If you already have an account, make sure your details are correct. We also suggest you try to file your taxes quickly. While you can file an extension to submit your taxes later (you’d still have to pay taxes owed now,) whether that will help or hurt you may get a little complicated.

The other payment groups loosely defined (by us) include Social Security beneficiaries who received payments a different way the first time if they’re part of the SSI or SSDI programs, and people with more complex scenarios that could lead to potential issues or holdups receiving their money. People in different child support situations are one example we’ve seen, as are people who are incarcerated and people with complex citizenship scenarios.

How tax season complicates a third stimulus check

Since a third stimulus check is likely to drop in the middle of tax season (taxes are due April 15), the IRS may have to calculate your total based on the most recent tax filing it has. That would be your 2020 taxes if you file early, or 2019 taxes if the check is ready before your tax return is. This could also disqualify some from getting a third stimulus payment. (Learn more about some of the stimulus check exceptions and catches here.)

If you’re owed money, you might have to wait a year to claim it, until you file your 2021 taxes in 2022, according to the latest proposal being considered in Washington. Filing for a tax extension could also change your timeline in a way that could be different if the IRS were to extend the tax due date itself.

By mid-March, tens of millions of Americans may have already received their tax refunds, which could make it tricky for the IRS to straighten out problems or redact refunds after issuing. 


How you get your second stimulus check could influence how soon your payment arrives.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Is there a way to make your money arrive faster?

There may be a few things you can do to help speed up receipt of a third payment, assuming the stimulus bill is approved. For example, signing up for direct deposit with your 2020 tax return would put you in the priority category for a third stimulus payment. 

If you’ve moved recently, tell the IRS and USPS. Here are our other suggestions for how people can make it more likely they’ll get their checks faster. Note that there could be some changes to qualifications that may not apply to a possible third stimulus check.

Will the IRS have another deadline for sending out payments?

The Jan. 15 deadline for the second stimulus check approved in December was written into the text of the bill without explanation. Anyone who didn’t receive all or part of their second payment must claim it as part of the IRS’ Recovery Rebate Credit on their tax return to get the funds owed — even if they have non-filer status and aren’t typically required to file taxes.

The latest proposal would give the IRS a Dec. 31, 2021 cutoff to complete sending out the third stimulus checks. 


The first two stimulus checks were nominally sorted by different payment groups, and one had a clear advantage over the others.

Sarah Tew/CNET

What these groups need to know about stimulus checks

Stimulus checks aren’t necessarily a one-size-fits-all situation. Here are our guides for:

Here’s everything you need to know about stimulus checks, including what to do if you ran into problems with either of the first two payments.


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