Third stimulus check update: 10 quick facts that clear up the confusion

March 20, 2021 0 By boss

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The third stimulus check is anything but simple.


Sarah Tew/CNET

With a third round of stimulus checks already hitting millions of bank accounts, there’s still a lot of confusion among recipients around the payment timeline and eligibility. Who is qualified to receive the full $1,400? And if you haven’t received a check yet, when will it arrive? We’ve got answers to these questions and more below.

Why all the confusion? The new bill changed several key details, most notably income limits, dependent benefits, new qualification requirements and a major expansion to the Child Tax Credit. Some adjustments were also made to citizenship-based eligibility requirements. And with the IRS making payments in the midst of this year’s tax season, your taxes also play a big role in determining whether you’ll get a check and when.

This is what we know as Americans wait to receive their payments, including how the total for your family could be more than just $1,400. For more on stimulus checks, here’s guidance on how to claim any missing stimulus money, what we know about whether you can sign up for direct deposit and how to track your third payment. This story is frequently updated. 

Stimulus checks are arriving in bank accounts

Yes, right now. The Treasury announced it started making payments on March 12, with more continuing to go out this week and into the coming weeks, by direct deposit and through the mail as a check or EIP prepaid debit card.

When your payment may arrive is a bit more complicated. However, we’ve mapped out some possibilities for which groups could start to get their $1,400 — and how long delivery of the checks could last.


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Stimulus check 3: How much money you’ll get



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There’s an income cutoff for the third stimulus payment

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 includes 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

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

More dependents qualify for a stimulus payment this time

The new stimulus bill opens the qualifications to roughly 13.5 million more dependents for a third stimulus payment — for $1,400 apiece — than the first two payments did by expanding the definition of a dependent. With the new check, any dependent — child or adult — would count toward a payment. With the first check and the second, Congress included children age 16 and under but excluded dependents 17 and older.

Some people aren’t eligible for the check at all

The strict income cap Congress has set for the third check means you could quickly be disqualified from receiving a check or receiving much less than the potential amount the House and Senate agreed to. 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.

The third check could have delay issues for some

The IRS is now sending out the checks. But the agency has a full plate: We’re in the middle of tax season, with a new May 17 deadline for taxpayers to submit their returns. It’s a full-time job for the IRS to process refund payments, even without being stretched by the ongoing pandemic, a backlog from 2019’s taxes and the job of processing this new round of stimulus payments — using a new formula — and implementing other pieces of the new relief bill, including the expanded child tax credit.

Here’s what to know about stimulus checks and taxes. Read more below for which tax year the IRS will use for you.

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


Angela Lang/CNET

Find out if the IRS will use your 2019 or 2020 tax returns to calculate the payment amount

Tax season and the timing of a third stimulus check overlap. What that means is that the IRS will base your total on income from either your 2020 or 2019 tax return (or even earlier), 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 total was lower because the IRS based it on your 2019 taxes, you’d have to claim the difference, possibly when you file in 2022, if not sooner. 

Here’s how your check could be affected if you file for a tax extension.

Here’s the IRS’ time frame for sending out the payments

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.)

This time, the IRS will 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 in 2022. Here are possible timelines for the third stimulus check, for every payment group.

What you can do now to get your 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. After members of Congress asked the IRS to postpone this year’s tax-filing deadline, the IRS has confirmed a new tax due date of May 17.

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.

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


Sarah Tew/CNET

Eligibility guidelines for a payment have expanded this time

While the hard income cap will disqualify millions, the third stimulus check also extends 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 includes 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, people who are nonresident aliens won’t 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

Why others can expect a much larger check 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 makes 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 $1,400 payments to dependents. A change in your circumstances can 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 in the new stimulus package, how to estimate your third stimulus check and everything your stimulus check has to do with taxes (and the other way around.)

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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