More stimulus check details emerge: Payment size, new qualifications, speedier timeline

February 6, 2021 0 By boss


Here’s the latest with America’s third stimulus check.

Sarah Tew/CNET

President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus package and the third stimulus check of up to $1,400 came another step closer to reality this week. On Friday, the Senate and House approved a budget resolution for the proposal that could allow Democrats to push past opposition and quickly approve a final bill. However, the next payment also could come with a catch. It seems likely the checks will be “targeted” to people under a certain income level — so, while people who qualify would get a larger payment than they did with the first or second check, a change to the stimulus check formula also could result in no money at all. 

We’ll walk you through what it all means so far, from the proposed $1,400 upper limit to ways that more groups would be eligible, to all the ways your family could get more money. We’ll also explain a powerful, but rarely used tool that Democratic Senate leaders are preparing to wield, as well as what happens if a payment were to arrive in the middle of tax season. For example, would it affect your tax refunds and returns

Here’s everything we know so far about a third stimulus check, including how you can set yourself up to potentially get the new funds faster. This story was recently updated with new information.

What is a ‘targeted’ stimulus check, and why do some lawmakers want it?

Biden is resolute in a $1,400 stimulus check maximum per person: “I’m not cutting the size of the checks. They’re going to be $1,400. Period. That’s what the American people were promised,” he said Feb. 5. Biden’s statement effectively killed a $618 billion proposal from a group of moderate Republicans who advanced the notion of a limited $1,000 stimulus check.

The simple explanation is that some people are concerned that a stimulus check for $1,400 would go out to a proportion of people with relatively high income levels. If the bill is targeted toward lower income people, then, for example, using our stimulus calculator for the third check, a person could make $102,900 per year (in adjusted gross income) and still get a partial payment of $5. 

“We need to target that money,” Biden added. “So, folks making $300,000 don’t get any windfall.”

One way would be to change the stimulus check formula that was used in the first two checks. Another would be to present an arbitrary cutoff (e.g., a check would only go out to people who make under a certain amount per year, as per their AGI). A third could be to lower the maximum amount of the next stimulus payment (because, math). Our stimulus check article explains more.

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Stimulus check No. 3: What you need to know


The new stimulus check timeline may be fast-tracked

With a plan in place to use budget reconciliation to pass a COVID-19 bill faster, the third stimulus check could arrive weeks before the previously projected mid-March timeline. But whenever it does pass, assuming that happens, it doesn’t mean you’d get your funds immediately. 

There are a lot of variables that could affect you personally, based on the first check, and others we won’t know until we can pore over the text of a final stimulus bill. For example, tax season 2020 could have a dramatic effect on how and when you get your next payment — we’ll just have to see how it all pans out. Meanwhile, we’ve mapped out some dates a third stimulus check could potentially arrive, depending on who you are.

How quickly would the IRS send out the third check? Would there be another deadline?

The IRS and Department of the Treasury set a blistering pace to deliver the second stimulus checks, starting within days of former President Donald Trump signing December’s stimulus bill. They had no choice. The language of the bill provided only a 17-day window to send the checks. There were millions of direct deposit errors, and now anyone missing stimulus money will have to claim it as part of filing 2020 taxes. (Yes, even that don’t otherwise file tax.)

It’s too soon to say if the IRS would automatically send a third check to recipients as they have done with the second stimulus checks, or if the money would be wrapped up into a Recovery Rebate Credit or something like it. We walk through more possible scenarios for the third stimulus check timeline here.


Some families could get more than before. Others would see less.

Angela Lang/CNET

Is there any way to get my third check faster?

Possibly. Your stimulus check and taxes are tightly intertwined. There are some important things to know about how your taxes can affect whether you’d qualify or not, depending on both the eligibility rules and your 2020 adjusted gross income. But taxes are now also tied to any missing stimulus money you might have to claim or trace. If you file your taxes sooner, you can get a refund (plus missing stimulus money) faster than if you, for example, file a tax extension. We also recommend setting up direct deposit with the IRS to get a catch-up payment faster — and potentially a new stimulus check.

Could stimulus check qualifications change with the third payment?

Biden proposes two changes that have been popular among Democratic lawmakers. The first would expand qualifications to dependents of any age, including 13.5 million more people, according to the People’s Policy Project, like college students, older adult relatives and dependents of all ages with disabilities (not just those under 17 years old). 

The second change to eligibility would include all “mixed-status households” with one or more family members who aren’t US citizens. An example would be parents who aren’t US citizens, but their US-born children are. The second stimulus checks expanded eligibility to families with one US citizen spouse.


Stimulus check money could add up fast — as long as you’re qualified to receive it.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Some families could get more money next time, even with a targeted check

A larger maximum total per person is an obvious way your household would see more money from a third check over the second, but there’s more to it than that. Since the upper limit for the second check was $600 per adult, with an extra $600 per child dependent (according to the IRS’ formula), more people hit the upper income limit for receiving a second payment. And that means they didn’t actually qualify to get any stimulus money at all.

A third stimulus check could make more groups of people eligible to receive money (namely noncitizens who pay taxes), and bring a larger total check to qualified individuals and their families. A change to your circumstances might also mean you qualify for more money this time. Here are other ways a third stimulus check could put more money in your pocket.

If a $1,400 payment is approved, could some people still get $2,000?

Biden’s stimulus plan calls for the next check to max out at $1,400 per eligible adult — not the $2,000 some originally expected. The idea is that this third check “raises” the $600 maximum set out in the second stimulus check to $2,000, once you combine the per-person payment totals — but without factoring in dependents.

One question is whether, if the qualifications were extended to new groups of people who weren’t included in the first round, the new recipients could get the entire $2,000 sum. There hasn’t been significant public discussion around the topic, so it’s one we’ll continue to monitor — but we wouldn’t necessarily hold our breath.

For more information about stimulus checks, here’s other funding that could be in the next stimulus package, how to estimate your third stimulus check and everything your stimulus check has to do with taxes (and the other way around).

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