Stimulus check details we know today: New payment size, timeline, qualifications

February 16, 2021 0 By boss



A third stimulus check is coming into focus. Here’s the latest news.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Looking to make good on President Joe Biden’s promise to “act fast,” the House of Representatives is filling in the details on Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus plan, including a third stimulus check for up to $1,400 per person$400 weekly bonus checks for unemployed Americans and a possible minimum wage increase to $15 per hour. The goal: to sign the stimulus bill into law by March 14 using a powerful tool to fast-track approval.

A lot could change between now and then, including any of the details that have emerged so far about a third stimulus check. Right now, we have an idea of how quickly the IRS could start sending the new, $1,400 stimulus payment, and what happens if it lands in the middle of tax season, especially if the IRS uses your 2020 tax return to determine your payment.

We also explain how new income limits could “target” the payment and change the stimulus formula in multiple ways, which might result in some people getting a lot more money this time around and others getting a smaller check — or no money at all. The situation around dependents is also expected to transform, potentially bringing your family more cash, and another qualifying group could become eligible, too. This story was recently updated. 

Would the IRS base your third stimulus check on your 2019 or 2020 taxes?

The confluence of tax season with a third stimulus check is a huge part of the conversation. The bottom line is that the IRS would likely base your total on income from either your 2020 or 2019 tax returns, whichever it has most recently on file at the time of payment. However, there are some important details that need to be confirmed about what happens if you  qualify for the full $1,400 based on your 2020 taxes, but your check was issued based on your 2019 taxes, and when you’d have to claim the difference.

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How fast could Congress approve a third stimulus check? 

The COVID-19 stimulus bill could clear the House of Representatives by this month and then go to the Senate for approval, if House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats have their way, before Congress sends to Biden to approval by March 14. If the Democrats’ plan to use a powerful political tool works, a third stimulus check could conceivably arrive later in March for the first wave of recipients. But whenever the bill does pass (assuming that happens), it doesn’t mean everyone would get their funds immediately. 

There are many variables that could affect you personally. For example, the 2020 tax season could have a dramatic effect on how and when you get your next payment ( see above) — we’ll just have to see how it all pans out. Meanwhile, we’ve mapped out some dates the IRS and Treasury could start sending the next stimulus check, depending on who you are.

What’s happening now with the ‘targeted’ stimulus check proposal?

Right now Democrats envision the third stimulus check with a $1,400-per-person maximum, but income limits and changes to certain rules for it would “target” the money to Americans with lower and middle incomes. the idea is, those individuals and families with the highest incomes would be excluded from a check.

The latest proposal (PDF) would draw a line in the sand to exclude individual taxpayers with an AGI (adjusted gross income) of at least $100,000 a year, heads of household earning $150,000 a year and couples earning $200,000. This is a hard cutoff. 

In a significant change, dependents could qualify for a $1,400 flat rate, but unlike the first two payments, people who make more than the upper limit wouldn’t be able to claim a partial check by having dependents. Read more about how the stimulus check formula has worked. Try our stimulus calculator for the third check to see how it could affect your situation.

Stimulus check proposal for income limits

Full $1,400 per person maximum (based on AGI) Not eligible (based on AGI)
Single taxpayer Less than $75,000 $100,000 or more
Head of household Less than $112,500 $150,000 or more
Married couple filing jointly Less than $150,000 $200,000 or more

When might the IRS actually send out a third payment? Would it have another deadline? 

The IRS and the 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 people who don’t otherwise file taxes.)

It appears that the IRS would automatically send a third check to recipients as it has done with the second stimulus payments, with taxpayers and nonfilers alike claiming any missing money in a Recovery Rebate Credit or something like it, for the 2021 tax season in 2022. 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 anything I can do to get my third stimulus 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, 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 get a new stimulus check faster, too. And if you moved recently, better let the IRS and USPS know.

What other rules could change with a third stimulus payment?

Besides possibly setting a hard income cap to qualify, the proposal embraces 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. That includes 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 made families with one US-citizen spouse eligible. However, it doesn’t appear that people who are undocumented workers would qualify for a stimulus check in the third round.


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

Sarah Tew/CNET

Why some people might get less stimulus money in a third round of checks

A targeted income limit that cuts off all households above a certain threshold is one way a household could get less stimulus check money than the total, but there are others, too. We explore that here, including ways that changes in your personal life could have an effect, like if you got a raise in the past year, or if you claim fewer dependents this time around. 

Why others could get more money in the third round, 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, including possible $1,400 payments to dependents. 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.

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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