Who could qualify for a second stimulus check? Here’s how eligibility could change

December 19, 2020 0 By boss


A change to eligibility rules for the second stimulus check could apply to millions of families.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The continuing negotiations for a $900 billion COVID-19 stimulus package with a second stimulus check seem to hint at some potentially drastic changes to qualifications, compared with the first direct payment. For example, one key requirement could change to the advantage of some families with dependents. Another shift under consideration would lower the total amount a second stimulus check could bring to households. Ultimately, eligibility and the size of your second stimulus check go hand in hand.

A final stimulus bill is still in the works, but Congress could now send $600 to each eligible adult and dependent, according to The Washington Post and others, with no cap on how many family members could count toward the household’s second stimulus check. That’s half of the $1,200 maximum allotted in the first stimulus payment last spring.

To learn what may happen to stimulus eligibility now, keep reading — and here’s what we know about the potential for a possible third stimulus check in 2021. This story was recently updated.

A second stimulus check could redefine who is a dependent

The CARES Act capped eligible dependents at age 16 and younger, but the new $900 billion stimulus bill might let a dependent of any age qualify for the proposed $600 that goes toward the family’s check. That means families that support older kids — like college age students — dependents over 16 with disabilities and older adults could potentially see more people in their household qualify if that proposal is adopted. 

Read moreNobody can take your stimulus check away, right? Not quite

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It could raise the amount of money for each dependent

Giving dependents more than the $500 apiece issued in the CARES Act has been a discussion point for months. A White House proposal from October kept the definition of a child dependent, but increased the sum per individual to $1,000 on the final household check. The current proposal would set the amount at $600, if approved. (Here’s how the IRS calculated the amount you got in the first check.)

Who could qualify for a second stimulus check

Qualifying group Likely to be covered by the final bill
Individuals An AGI of less than $99,000 (Same as CARES)
Head of household An AGI of less than $146,500 (Same as CARES)
Couple filing jointly An AGI less than $198,000 (Same as CARES)
Dependents of any age No limit (HEALS proposal; up to 3 in Heroes)
US citizens living abroad Yes, same as CARES
Citizens of US territories Likely, with payments handled by each territory’s tax authority (CARES)
SSDI and tax nonfilers Likely, but with an extra step to file (more below)
Uncertain status Could be set by court ruling or bill
Incarcerated people Excluded under CARES through IRS interpretation, judge overturned
Undocumented immigrants Qualifying “alien residents” are currently included under CARES
Disqualified group Unlikely to be covered by the final bill
Noncitizens who pay taxes (ITIN) Proposed in Heroes, unlikely to pass in Senate
Spouses, kids of ITIN filers Excluded under CARES, more below
People who owe child support Included in Heroes proposal, but excluded under CARES

People who owe overdue child support could be eligible

The Democrats this summer pushed to let a parent who owed child support receive a payment; the original CARES Act allowed the government to redirect payments to cover overdue support.

Incarcerated people could immediately get checks

After months of back and forth, the IRS is sending checks to those who are incarcerated and eligible for a payment. A Republican plan this summer would’ve excluded the payments.


If the definition of a dependent changes, your family could benefit.

Angela Lang/CNET

Noncitizens who pay taxes might meet new requirements

The CARES Act made a Social Security number a requirement for a payment. Other proposals would’ve expanded the eligibility to those with an ITIN instead of a Social Security number because they’re classified as a resident or nonresident alien. A Republican plan this summer would’ve excluded those with an ITIN.

Could the income limits be similar in a second stimulus payment?

Under the CARES Act, here are the income limits based on your adjusted gross income for the previous year that would qualify you for a stimulus check, assuming you met all the other requirements. (More below for people who don’t normally file taxes.) The current proposal in front of Congress would stick to the guidelines set out in the CARES Act for income.

  • You’re a single tax filer and earn less than $99,000.
  • You file as the head of a household and earn under $146,500.
  • You file jointly with a spouse and earn less than $198,000 combined.

How do my taxes affect how much I could get? What if I don’t file taxes? 

For most people, taxes and stimulus checks are tightly connected. For example, the most important factor in setting income limits is adjusted gross income, or AGI, which determines how much of the total amount you could receive, be it $600 or $1,200 for individuals and $1,200 or $2,400 for married couples (excluding children for now).

Our stimulus check calculator can show you how much money you could potentially expect from a second check of $1,200, based on your most recent tax filing. Read below for your eligibility if you don’t typically file taxes.


How much stimulus money you could get depends on who you are.

Angela Lang/CNET

What retired and older adults should know, too

Many older adults, including retirees over age 65, received a first stimulus check under the CARES Act, and would likely be eligible for a second one. For older adults and retired people, factors like your tax filingsyour AGI, your pension, if you’re part of the SSDI program (more below) and whether the IRS considers you a dependent would likely affect your chances of receiving a second payment. 

If I share custody or owe child support, does that affect eligibility?

Due to a specific rule, if you and the other parent of your child dependent alternate years claiming your child on your tax return, you may both be entitled to receive $500 more in your first stimulus check, and in the second if that rule doesn’t change.

If you owe child support, your stimulus money may be garnished for arrears (the amount you owe).

I haven’t submitted my federal tax return for the past two years (at least). Can I still get money?

People who weren’t required to file a federal income tax return in 2018 or 2019 may still be eligible to receive the first stimulus check under the CARES Act. If that guideline doesn’t change for a second stimulus check, this group would qualify again. Here are reasons you might not have been required to file:

  • You’re over 24, you’re not claimed as a dependent and your income is less than $12,200.
  • You’re married filing jointly and together your income is less than $24,400.
  • You have no income.
  • You receive federal benefits, such as Supplemental Security Income or Social Security Disability Insurance. See below for more on SSDI.

With the first stimulus check, nonfilers needed to provide the IRS with some information before they could receive their payment. (If you still haven’t received a first check even though you were eligible, the IRS said you can claim it on your taxes in 2021.) This fall, the IRS attempted to contact 9 million Americans who may’ve fallen into this category but who haven’t requested their payment. Those in this group can claim their payment on next year’s taxes.

I’m part of the SSI or SSDI program. Do I qualify for a stimulus check?

Those who are part of the SSI or SSDI program also qualify for a check under the CARES Act. Recipients wouldn’t receive their payments via their Direct Express card, which the government typically uses to distribute federal benefits, but through a non-Direct Express bank account or as a paper check. SSDI recipients can file next year to request a payment for themselves and dependents.

For more, here’s what we know about the major proposals for another stimulus package. We also have information on unemployment insurance, what you can do if you’ve lost your job and what to know about evictions.

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