Stimulus checks: 10 myths and facts to know about your first and second payment


The election results are in, but the future of a second stimulus check is still uncertain.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Negotiations around another economic relief package and a second stimulus check appear to be on pause, as the Senate disbands until after Thanksgiving. It’s seeming less and less likely that a bill will pass before the new year and the Jan. 20 inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden, which means it could be a while before eligible American adults see a second stimulus check of up to $1,200

The process of sending out and receiving stimulus checks is complicated, both the first payment that the IRS is still sending out (if you still haven’t gotten a first check, you may have until Nov. 21 to claim it) and a possible second round of money. While there’s still much we don’t know — including the exact date another payment could come your way (we have guesses), which qualifications could change and who wouldn’t be eligible for another round — there’s also a lot we can infer based on the terms of the first stimulus check and the various proposals that have been proposed in Washington, including a plan from Biden

Here’s what’s true and false about stimulus checks. And here’s every remaining benefit that disappears if no bill is passed before 2021.

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Next stimulus checks: What to expect


The IRS might still owe you stimulus money from the first check

Guess what? The IRS still owes millions of people all or part of their first stimulus checks. It may be that some money was left out for child dependents, or that an interpretation of a rule changed (this really happened), that you fell through the cracks with your personal situation, that you didn’t think you qualified but you actually do and need to take an extra step or that some other error kept you from getting the total amount you were entitled to. You have until Nov. 21 to file your claim or else you’ll need to wait until tax season in 2021.

Some people won’t qualify for a second stimulus payment

With the first round of checks, Congress set income limits based on your adjusted gross income that were one line separating who did and didn’t qualify for a stimulus check. But it’s just the beginning. Your status as a dependent or adult, your citizenship and more also helped decide if you got all or some of the first check — and those things will likely also affect the second. Read more about stimulus payment qualifications here.

You may not automatically get the same amount as the first time if you do qualify

If the eligibility requirements change with the second check, you and your family could find yourself with more money in your payment, or less. For example, a new rule could potentially get you a bigger sum. But there may also be changes to your life circumstances — such as a birth or death, starting a new job or becoming unemployed — that might also play a role in a different check amount. Here’s how you can calculate your estimate, and here’s how the IRS determines how much money you get.

To get a stimulus check, you don’t have to file taxes

While taxes and stimulus checks are tied together, you don’t need to have filed a tax return to qualify for a check. If you’re over age 65, for example, and receive Supplemental Security Income or Social Security Disability Insurance, you could still qualify for a stimulus check under the CARES Act. You might need to take an extra step to request your payment (you have until Nov. 21 for the first batch) in order to get your check.

You can usually keep the money, but there are exceptions

In most cases, your check is yours to spend or save how you want. But there are a few situations where the federal government or a debt collector can take all or part of your check to cover a debt, such as if you owe child support.


You still have a few weeks to claim a stimulus check this year.

Sarah Tew/CNET

There’s a formula for stimulus payment calculations

Figuring out what your payment could end up being is not straightforward. The IRS used a formula to determine how much stimulus money you got for the first check, and something similar for a second payment would determine whether you receive the full amount, a partial payment or far more than $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 calculation starts with your household’s total adjusted gross income, adds on the money allotted to qualifying dependents and then deducts from the total based on your income bracket (as defined by the CARES Act). 

Stimulus money won’t be taxed in 2021

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.

The IRS has a list of priority groups — find yours

Eligible Americans got the first stimulus payment at different times, often because of the way they got paid, and a second payment would be similar. For example, people who have set up direct deposit — an electronic transfer of funds into their bank account — 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. 

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You might have waited for a while for your first check to come in the mail.

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The next check may not be as delayed as the first

With the first check, the IRS learned how to mobilize and deliver stimulus money, and worked out many of the difficulties in the process. If a second check is approved, it’s likely 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 probable that the majority of people who qualified for a first check would 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 Jan. 20 inauguration.

There are many rules and exceptions for eligibility requirements

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

For example:

Certain issues could delay your check, such as if you recently moved.

For more information about stimulus payments, here’s what to do if you haven’t received your first payment and how to file a payment claim with the IRS if you think you’re missing all or part of your stimulus check. Here’s what’s happening with stimulus negotiations right now.