Is the second stimulus check half as much as the first? Not for everyone

December 22, 2020 0 By boss


Your second stimulus check could be around half as much as the first — but there’s more.

Sarah Tew/CNET

 A second stimulus check for up to $600 per single taxpayer and $1,200 per married couple may seem like the $900 billion stimulus package will only give you half the total payment of the first stimulus check. For some people, that may be the case. But for many, the second stimulus check math isn’t that simple.

It’s true that the $600 per adult authorized by the new stimulus bill is undoubtedly less money than the first stimulus check, which maxed out at $1,200 per qualifying adult. But the final language of the stimulus bill also allots $600 per child dependent, rather than $500. That slight raise in the amount a qualifying child represents will affect the total sum of your second stimulus check, which we’ve sketched out below in a handy chart.

Figuring out the amount you’d ultimately receive from one proposal or the other relies on a complex formula (and your adjusted gross income). Here’s how the second stimulus check caps would work for you and your family. This story was recently updated with new details.

Read more: Want a third stimulus check? America’s next Congress could hold the key

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Next stimulus checks: What to expect


$1,200 versus $600: What’s the difference for a second stimulus check?

It bears repeating. Splitting the amount you got for your first stimulus check in half isn’t necessarily the best way to calculate how much you might get with a second direct payment. The chart below gives you an idea of how much a household could get if it did receive the full benefit of a second stimulus check

As a reminder, the $600 sum per child dependent applies only to children under 17 years old. You also may not get the entire total per adult.

Stimulus check money: $600 versus $1,200

$600 stimulus check ($600 per child age 16 or under) $1,200 stimulus check ($500 per child age 16 or under)
Individual taxpayer, no child dependents $600 maximum $1,200 maximum
Head of household, 1 child dependent $1,200 maximum $1,700 maximum
Head of household, 2 child dependents $1,800 maximum $2,200 maximum
Head of household, 3 child dependents $2,400 maximum $2,700 maximum
Married couple, no child dependents $1,200 maximum $2,400 maximum
Married couple, 1 child dependent $1,800 maximum $2,900 maximum
Married couple, 2 child dependents $2,400 maximum $3,400 maximum
Married couple, 3 child dependents $3,000 maximum $3,900 maximum

What if a $1,200 stimulus check happens in 2021?

If a $1,200 stimulus check materializes in 2021, or maybe just in case you’d like to play a game of hypotheticals, we did some math based on previous proposals on how much more stimulus money come people could potentially see if certain rules changed.

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. By today’s sums, that’s $500 more per person you support, with potentially no cap. If you had one dependent who qualified in the first round and three that qualify in the second, that would get your family $1,000 more if you had no other changes.

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. So if you have one dependent, your second check could be $500 larger.


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

James Martin/CNET

You gain another dependent: If you had or adopted a child, you may see $500 to $1,000 more, depending on the final bill.

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. For example, if you got a partial payment with the first check, you may receive a full payment if you are no longer employed.

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. For example, if you were single and filing alone, you got $1,200 max. Married, you could be eligible for $2,400 maximum, since the IRS formula used to determine your total stimulus money is based on your combined household income.

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. That means you could get $500 more in the second check, especially if anything in your situation changed from the time you filed your 2018 tax return to 2019. The second check allowance will be based on your most recent tax filing.

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 of up to $1,200, as well as the first. That’s a potential $2,400 total for individuals, with more potential money for dependents.

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 that 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.

There’s a potential for $1,200 to $2,400 for this group, with more for dependents. For a married couple with two young children who didn’t receive the first check, the second round could possibly yield as much as $3,400.

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