New stimulus check: All the essential facts to know about payment size, qualifications and more

October 18, 2020 John Mendoza No Comments


Here’s what’s happening with a second stimulus check.

Angela Lang/CNET

Congress continues to negotiate all the details of another coronavirus relief package — and the second stimulus payment that would likely come with it. Progress has been steady but slow, and we still don’t know exactly what a final bill would look like. That means everything from who would be eligible for a second stimulus check to when it could arrive to all the other ins and outs are still up in the air, as the 2020 presidential election fast approaches. 

We may not know exactly if or how another stimulus bill will come together, but we can offer some big-picture information about stimulus checks, including whether you might be among the first or last to receive a second check if one’s approved, and how the IRS calculates the amount of stimulus money you’d get

Here’s the major information we know right now about stimulus checks, including how your taxes affect your payment and the role your children and dependents play, too. We update this story regularly.

1. Stimulus negotiations are becoming more urgent by the day

Pressure is mounting for Congress to pass another stimulus relief bill that brings more immediate aid to eligible Americans: The Nov. 3 election is just over two weeks away, new unemployment numbers are on the rise, there are more than 8 million known coronavirus cases in the US and millions of people are living in poverty during the coronavirus pandemic. Despite the fact that both political parties support sending a second stimulus check, negotiations have been arduous. 

On Oct. 9, the White House prepared a $1.8 trillion stimulus offer, which includes another payment of up to $1,200 for individuals, along with a change in how much people could get for dependents (more on that below). Since then, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have spoken daily, and they say they’re making progress on language, funding and other details in the bill. Meanwhile, President Donald Trump has urged Congress to “go higher” than the $1.8 trillion package. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has pushed back. 

“He’s talking about a much larger amount than I can sell to my members,” McConnell told reporters in Kentucky last week. When the Senate returns on Monday, it’ll vote on a new stand-alone bill to refund the Paycheck Protection Program — which doesn’t include money for stimulus checks — potentially setting up a division between Senate Republicans and the White House. (Here’s everything you need to know about the Senate’s upcoming vote, and what it could mean for you.)


High unemployment rates and a faltering economy underscore the need for more aid.

Angela Lang/CNET

2. Stimulus payment math works like this

You may be interested to know that the IRS has a formula for working out how much stimulus money you could get, and that’s what determines whether you receive the full amount, a partial payment or far more than the $1,200 if you have kids.

It also explains how you might still be able to get some stimulus money, even if your family’s yearly income exceeds the limit set out by the CARES Act in March. The calculations start with your household’s total adjusted gross income, add on the money allotted to qualifying dependents, and then start deducting from the total, based on your income bracket (as defined by the CARES Act). 

You can calculate how much you could get in a stimulus check now, including for a second check. 

3. Most people saved their stimulus money or paid off debt

A new survey this week on how people in the US used their first stimulus check shed light on the economic reality of the coronavirus’ effects. The survey from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York polled 1,300 households between June and August. The study found that of the 89% who reported receiving a stimulus check ($2,400 median total):

  • 29% spent the stimulus money (on essentials, nonessentials and donations).
  • 36.4% saved their stimulus money.
  • 34.5% used it to pay down debt.

When asked what they’d do with a second check of $1,500, 45% of respondents said they’d save the money, 30.9% said they’d apply it toward debt, and 24.2% said they’d spend it in some way.

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4. There could be 5 different payment waves

Eligible Americans get their checks at different times, often due to how they’re getting paid. For example, people who have direct deposit — an electronic transfer of funds into their bank account — set up with the IRS could get their checks weeks before those who receive a paper check or prepaid EIP card in the mail. We identified five priority groups based on the first stimulus checks

5. New eligibility changes mean you could get more money

It’s likely that a second stimulus check would largely follow the same rules and guidelines as the first. But the qualifications for who could get money are subject to change, in ways that could benefit your family. One proposed bill redefines who counts as a qualifying dependent, and would give your family $500 for each dependent you claim on your taxes, regardless of age. 

The current $1.8 trillion proposal from the White House offers a $1,000 payment per child dependent. We’ve explained how some families might benefit more from one bill versus the other in terms of a total payment. (Here’s how young people could qualify for their own $1,200 check.)

A new survey from Liberty Street Economics broke down how people reported using their first check: 18% of funds went to essential spending, 8% went to non-essential spending, 36% went into savings, 35% was used to pay down debt, and 3% was donated. When asked to break down how participants expected to spend a potential second stimulus check, they said an average of 45% would go to savings, 14% would go to essential spending, and 31% would pay down debt. 

6. You could get money from a second payment faster 

With the first check, the IRS learned how to mobilize and delivery stimulus money, and worked out many of the growing pains in the plan. If a second check is approved, it’s likely that the agency could speed up the process of sending out the first set of payments. The tracking tool is already up and running, the system is in place and it’s likely that the majority of people who qualified for a first check will also receive another. 

The timeline is constantly changing, but we’ve mapped out potential dates a check could be sent if approved before — or after — the election.

7. The IRS could still owe you money

If you’re still waiting for your first stimulus payment, there are several ways to hunt it down. As many as 9 million people were estimated to be eligible for a first check but didn’t receive it, because it requires registering with the IRS — an extra step most people didn’t have to take. The deadline is Nov. 21 and we show you how to do it. Some people with dependents received only a partial payment and are still owed money. The deadline to get that in 2020 passed Sept. 30, but we explain how you can claim it with next year’s taxes. 

8. There are tons of confusing exceptions and rules

If and when a second stimulus check is approved, there will be lots of small details, rules and exceptions that can get confusing. While some situations will be easy to understand, others around you and your dependents might make it unclear if you’re eligible, and for how much money. The fringe cases are many. 

For example:


Less than a quarter of eligible recipients received their payment as a check in the mail.

Sarah Tew/CNET

9. You won’t have to pay taxes on your stimulus money

The IRS doesn’t consider stimulus money to be income. That means a payment you get this year won’t reduce your refund in 2021 or increase the amount you owe when you file your 2020 tax return. You also won’t have to repay part of your stimulus check if you qualify for a lower amount in 2021. The IRS said if you didn’t receive everything you were owed this year, you can claim it as a credit on your 2020 federal income tax return by filing in 2021. Here’s everything to know about stimulus checks and taxes.

There’s much more to know about other government payments during the pandemic, including a possible interest check from the IRS and where the $300 federal unemployment benefit is now.

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