Stimulus check rules for dependents: More money, qualifications, tax breaks

March 15, 2021 0 By boss



Angela Lang/CNET

The IRS is now sending the third stimulus check to bank accounts — with payments coming in the mail in the next few weeks. And while new eligibility requirements may exclude some who received the first two payments, new guidelines for dependents mean that nearly 13.5 million others may be eligible for up to $1,400 each, as part of the family total.

The details can get pretty complicated, especially since the third check is arriving during tax season. Your head may be swimming with questions: What if I’m missing stimulus money for dependents from the first two checks? What if I had a new baby in 2020? What if my family has mixed-status citizenship

We’ll help explain what you need to know about dependents (including older adults and people of all ages with disabilities) and how changes to income limits could lower the amount of your stimulus check or completely disqualify you. And if you’re curious, here’s who the IRS defines as an adult for stimulus checks and how to track your payment. This story was recently updated.

All dependents qualify for a third check, regardless of age

For the first and second stimulus checks, qualified dependents were defined as anyone age 16 or younger (here is how the first two checks compare with the third). Each dependent counted toward the family total, with no cap on the number of child dependents claimed. That rate was $500 for the first check, approved last March, and $600 for the second, which was approved and sent in December.

The new billthat President Joe Biden signed into law on March 11 earmarks $1,400 per dependent of any age, to be calculated into the checks of their parents or guardians. For the first time, 17-year-olds and adult dependents (anyone 18 or older) are also eligible for a payment as part of the new bill. This group includes around 13.5 million college students, older adults and children of all ages with certain disabilities. 

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Stimulus check 3: How much money you’ll get


How the new income limit could disqualify you even if you have dependents

The new third stimulus check is targeted for families determined by a certain income threshold. In a change this time, dependents would not bring some families a partial payment as they did with previous checks — the income limits would be absolute. (See for yourself with our $1,400 stimulus check calculator, or learn how to calculate your adjusted gross income here.)

Stimulus check income limits

Qualifies for full $1,400 Does not qualify for stimulus check
Single taxpayer AGI below $75,000 AGI of $80,000 or above
Head of household AGI below $112,500 AGI of $120,000 or above
Married, filing jointly AGI below $150,000 AGI of $160,000 or above

Mixed-status families, dependents and the third payment: Important information

In addition to opening up the definition of a dependent to all ages, Biden’s $1,400 stimulus check plan also includes all mixed-status families. This means that families with noncitizen parents but US citizen children are eligible for stimulus money. 

For the second check, families with one citizen parent could receive a payment, whereas the first stimulus check blocked all families with one noncitizen spouse if they filed jointly, even if they claimed a US citizen as a dependent. The same restriction applied to a noncitizen head of household who claimed a US citizen child as part of the previous tax return. Here’s what to know about citizenship and stimulus checks.


Your stimulus check total could dramatically rise with new rules for dependents.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The expanded child tax credit could mean more money

One way families will get even more stimulus money is through an expansion of the child tax credit  included in the bill. Age really is critical here. 

The new CTC rules bring the credit up to $3,600 per child under age 6, and $3,000 per child up to age 17 over the course of a year, for families that qualify. Payments will begin phasing out for individuals who make more than $75,000 and married couples who make more than $150,000. Payments will happen periodically from July through December.

Do dependents get their own individual stimulus check?

Dependents don’t receive their own stimulus checks, but they can add funds to the household’s total. With the third check, dependents of any age will add up to $1,400 per dependent to the family’s check. The total amount of money allocated in the third payment depends on your adjusted gross income, which you can also find on your taxes.

If I’ve got more dependents now than the last time I filed taxes, how will that affect my check? 

Parents of babies born or adopted in 2020: You can claim dependent benefits from the first two checks retroactively on your 2020 tax return. Because eligibility for the first two stimulus checks was based on your most recent tax return, babies born in 2020 were excluded from their parents’ stimulus check dependent benefits. But that money isn’t lost for good. The Recovery Rebate Credit on your 2020 return will recoup that missing stimulus money, which totals up to $1,100 for qualifying babies (the $500 dependent stimulus payment from the CARES Act plus the $600 payment from the second bill). 

You can do this now, and your eligibility for the third check will remain the same. All you have to do is file your taxes — and we recommend doing so sooner rather than later, because if the third check goes out before your new dependent becomes known to the IRS, you’ll have to recoup that money next year.

You can also find out if you can claim a child or another relative as your dependent on your taxes with this tool from the IRS


Stimulus checks and the Child Tax Credit aim to help lift kids out of poverty.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Why dependents aren’t always the exact same for taxes and stimulus checks

In terms of federal tax regulations, a dependent can fall into two categories: a qualifying child or a qualifying relative. They don’t need to be children, or directly related to you, but they do have to meet certain requirements set out by the IRS. 

To be claimed as a dependent on your taxes, a qualifying child must be either younger than 19 years old, or a student younger than 24 years old at the end of the calendar year. If, however, your child is what the IRS calls “permanently and totally disabled,” you can claim them as a dependent no matter their age. 

To claim a qualifying relative — either a child or an adult — as a dependent, they must meet other IRS criteria. This might include an elderly relative who relies on you for care. (Find out more about what older adults need to know about stimulus checks, including those who may be qualifying relative dependents.)

Even if a dependent was claimed on your tax return, only people who meet a specific definition of “child dependent” were eligible to count toward the household’s money from the first round of stimulus checks due to the requirements of the CARES Act. The same was true for the second round under the December $900 billion law: The child dependent must be age 16 or under as of your 2019 tax return to qualify for any payment. 

However, the third check make dependents of all ages, including young adults and older adults, eligible to add up to $1,400 each to the household’s total. 

Where are my dependents listed on my taxes? 

If you filed taxes in 2018 or later, you’ll find your dependents listed on form 1040, US Individual Income Tax Return. In the middle of the first page, you’ll see a box labeled Dependents. Dependents, along with their Social Security number, relationship to you and whether they qualify for a child tax credit or credit for other dependents, will be listed there. 


Find your dependent on your 2019 tax form 1040.


Read this if you and your spouse share custody of a dependent but file taxes individually

In this case, a child can still only be claimed as a dependent on one return in a tax year. To find out who should claim the child on their return, check out the IRS information on a qualifying child of more than one person.

What to know if you’re divorced or legally separated and share custody of a child

Here’s where things can get confusing. A child can only be claimed as a dependent by one taxpayer for a tax year. Typically, the child counts as the dependent of the custodial parent — the parent who the child lived with for a longer period of time during the year, even if financial support came from the other parent. However, this isn’t always the case. Find out more from the IRS here.

One case that has cropped up with the first check has been parents who aren’t married and have joint custody and alternate years in which they claim each dependent child (or children) on their tax returns. In that case, both parents were eligible under the CARES Act to receive $500 per child (for a total of $1,000 per child between them both). 

Here’s how that works: If you are a parent who didn’t claim your child on your 2019 return, when you file your 2020 tax return, you may be able to claim up to an additional $500 per child on that return, if you qualify to claim the child as your qualifying dependent for 2020. 

Bottom line? A parent with 50-50 custody of one or more children who didn’t receive a $500 payment per child as part of the stimulus package can get that money along with their tax refund after filing 2020 taxes (in 2021), regardless of whether or not the other parent received that payment for the same children in the first round of checks. Because these payments are essentially tax credits, they don’t have to be repaid to the IRS, even if both (again, not married to each other) parents end up with a check for the same children. 

For the third stimulus check, the payment should go to the parent who filed the child on their taxes most recently (the IRS will use either your 2019 or 2020 tax return, whichever it has on file). The parent who does not receive a payment may be able to file for missing money on their 2021 tax return

Read our story about how stimulus checks impact child support payments here. And here’s more information from the IRS about the qualifying child of more than one person. 

If my dependent has a disability, will that affect my third payment?

This is one area where the qualifications diverge for stimulus checks and taxes. If you have a child dependent with disabilities whom the IRS defines as “permanently and totally disabled,” they can still count as a child dependent on your tax return, regardless of their age. The IRS says your child falls under this category if both of the following apply:

  • They can’t engage in any substantial gainful activity because of a physical or mental condition.
  • A doctor determines the condition has lasted or can be expected to last continuously for at least a year or can lead to death.

The rule has been different for stimulus checks so far. Children who are disabled or aged 17 years or older are not eligible for the $600 allotted to child dependents, unless they were aged 16 or younger on your 2019 tax return. For the third check, all dependents are eligible for a payment of up to $1,400, regardless of age or disability status. 

What happens if I had a dependent who died recently?

With the first check, if a child dependent who was listed on your last tax return has since died, it’s likely you were still sent the extra $500, and that they were included in the second payment too. If you haven’t filed a new tax return or updated your information with the IRS since then, you may still get sent a payment for them. However, a payment made to someone who died before they received it should be returned to the IRS. You also cannot claim a stillborn child as a dependent, according to the IRS. 

For more information, here are all the details we know about the third stimulus check including receiving your check via direct deposit. If you still haven’t gotten your first or second check, find out how to claim a missing payment and learn how to report your missing check to the IRS.

The editorial content on this page is based solely on objective, independent assessments by our writers and is not influenced by advertising or partnerships. It has not been provided or commissioned by any third party. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products or services offered by our partners.


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