Stimulus check update: Near-final details on income limit, timeline, IRS calculations

March 7, 2021 0 By boss



Is a third stimulus check in the bag? Here’s the latest news.

Sarah Tew/CNET

A third stimulus check for up to $1,400 per person is hurtling toward reality, with the final COVID-19 relief package potentially becoming law before the end of the week. While there’s an outside chance details on the new stimulus payment will change in a significant way between now and then, the Senate already made notable modifications that affect who would qualify for a new check, how much stimulus money they could get and when the new check could arrive

We also have a good idea of how the third payment compares to the previous $600 and $1,200 checks approved in 2020, such as how your dependents count this time, changes to eligibility based on citizenship and how tax season could be a huge determining factor in whether you’ll get a payment and when.

Here’s everything we know so far, including how the next bill could total more than just $1,400 for your family. For more on stimulus checks, here’s guidance on how to claim any missing stimulus money and information on determining if you may need to file an IRS payment trace. This story is frequently updated. 

What’s the third stimulus check payment timeline?

Right now, it looks like Congress will meet its deadline for President Joe Biden to sign the stimulus bill by March 14, the date current federal unemployment benefits expire. When your check may arrive is a bit more complicated. However, we’ve mapped out some possibilities for which groups could start to get their $1,400 by the end of March or in early April — and how long delivery of the checks could last.

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Stimulus check No. 3: What you need to know


Could anything delay the third payment?

Outside of Congress, the IRS has a full plate now that we’re in the middle of tax season, with an April 15 deadline for taxpayers to submit their returns. It can take months for the IRS to process the payments, even without being stretched thin because of the ongoing pandemic, a backlog from 2019’s taxes and the job of processing another round of stimulus payments — using a new formula — for more than 100 million households. Here’s what to know about stimulus checks and taxes. Read more below for which tax year the IRS will use for you.

What’s the income limit for a third check?

The third stimulus check comes with a $1,400-per-person maximum. To “target” or restrict the third check to lower- and middle-income households, the legislation is likely to include eligibility rules that exclude individuals and families at the highest income levels. An individual with an AGI (adjusted gross income) of at least $80,000 a year would hit the payment cutoff, as would a head of household earning $120,000 and a couple filing jointly with an AGI of $160,000.

However, any dependent a taxpayer claims could qualify for a $1,400 payment. But unlike the first two stimulus payments, people above the hard upper limit wouldn’t be able to get a partial check by having dependents. Here’s how the stimulus check formula would work. If you want to see for yourself, try our stimulus calculator for the third check.

Stimulus check income limits (March 6 version)

Full $1,400 per person maximum (based on AGI) Not eligible (based on AGI)
Single taxpayer Less than $75,000 $80,000 or more
Head of household Less than $112,500 $120,000 or more
Married couple filing jointly Less than $150,000 $160,000 or more

Will the IRS use my 2019 or 2020 taxes to calculate my stimulus payment?

Tax season and the timing of a third stimulus check will most likely overlap. What that means is that the IRS will likely base your total on income from either your 2020 or 2019 tax return, whichever it has on hand when it determines the size of your payment.  If you qualify for the full $1,400 based on your 2020 taxes, but your check was lower because the IRS based it on your 2019 taxes, you’d have to claim the difference when you file in 2022. 

Here’s how your check could be affected if you file for a tax extension, and what would happen if the IRS pushes the tax deadline past April 15.

How long will the IRS have to send my payment?

The IRS and the Department of the Treasury took just days to deliver the second stimulus checks, starting shortly after former President Donald Trump signed 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 their 2020 taxes. (Yes, even people who don’t otherwise file taxes.)

The IRS would have until Dec. 31, 2021 to automatically send a third check to recipients, with taxpayers and non-filers alike claiming any missing money as a Recovery Rebate Credit or something like it, in 2022. Here are more possible scenarios for the third stimulus check timeline here.


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

Angela Lang/CNET

Can I do anything to get my payment faster?

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 for a third stimulus check, depending on both the eligibility rules and your 2020 adjusted gross income. But taxes are now also tied to any missing stimulus money from the first two checks that you might have to claim or trace. Some members of Congress have asked the IRS to postpone this year’s tax-filing deadline, but we haven’t heard more on this.

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. If you moved recently, it’s important to let the IRS and USPS know.

How could qualifications expand?

While the hard income cap will disqualify millions, the third stimulus check would also extend qualifications to dependents of any age. 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 people who are undocumented workers would qualify for a stimulus check in the third round.

Read moreStimulus money and tax breaks for kids and older adults: Not just a $1,400 check


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

Sarah Tew/CNET

Who might get less stimulus money this time?

There are several ways you could get less stimulus check money than the total approved by Congress. We explore that here, including changes in your personal life that may have an effect, such as if you got a raise in the past year or if you claim fewer dependents this time around. Here’s who might not qualify for a new stimulus check.

Why others could expect a larger payment this time

A larger maximum total per person is an obvious way your household would see more money from a third check, 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 in 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 information about 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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