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Stimulus check details coming to light: New payment size, qualifications, timeline

By Jessica Dolcourt

Here’s what we know so far about the potential third stimulus check, including the new rules that could bring you more money, and when it might arrive.

Things are heating up in Washington, DC this week. The House of Representatives continues to chip away at the final form of a $1.9 trillion stimulus proposal, which would include a third stimulus check for up to $1,400 per person, $400 a week in extra unemployment insurance and possibly the beginnings of a $15 per hours minimum wage increase. But work on the bill could ultimately stall depending on the results of the ongoing impeachment trial of Donald Trump in the Senate (here’s how to watch today).

Here’s what we know so far about a third check: New income limits could “target” the payment and change the stimulus formula in multiple ways, which might result in some people getting a lot more money this time around and others getting a smaller check — or no money at all. The situation around dependents could also transform, potentially bringing your family more cash, and another qualifying group could become eligible, too.

The good news is that a new payment could get approved far faster than the second one did, due to a legislative tool Congressional Democrats are using to push through Republican opposition. We know a bit about how quickly the IRS could start sending a new stimulus check, but the current timeline puts it in the middle of tax season 2020.

This could complicate things, potentially resulting in a two-part processing of your money. But on the plus side, we’ve also got information on how you could set yourself up to potentially get the next check faster. Here’s everything we know today. This story has been updated.

What’s going on with the ‘targeted’ stimulus check proposal?

Right now, Democrats envision the third stimulus check with a $1,400-per-person maximum, but income limits and changes to certain rules for it would be “targeted” to Americans with lower and middle incomes. In theory, those with the highest incomes won’t get a full or partial check.

The latest proposal (PDF) would draw a line in the sand to exclude individual taxpayers with an AGI of $100,000 a year, heads of household earning $150,000 a year and couples earning $200,000. This is a hard cutoff.

In a significant change, dependents could qualify for a $1,400 flat rate, but unlike the first two payments, people who make more than the upper limit would not be able to claim a partial check by having dependents. Read more about how the stimulus check formula has worked.

Our stimulus calculator for the third check shows how — if there were no limits in a third round — a person who earns $102,900 a year could still get a partial payment of $5, for example.

Will the IRS base your third stimulus check amount on your 2019 or 2020 taxes?

The confluence of tax season with a third stimulus check is a huge part of the conversation. We’ll explore in more detail below, but for now we want to point out that the most recent Democratic proposal would determine your total based on income from either your 2020 or 2019 tax returns, whatever the IRS has most recently on file at the time of payment.

Taxpayers receiving an advance payment that exceeds their maximum eligible credit based on 2021 tax return information will not be required to repay any amount of the payment to the Treasury. If a taxpayer’s 2021 tax credit exceeds the amount of the advance payment, taxpayers can claim the difference on their 2021 tax returns.

For example, if you qualify for the full $1,400 based on your 2020 taxes, but your check was issued based on your 2019 taxes, you’d claim the difference a year from now on your 2021 tax return, much like the current Recovery Rebate Credit for missing stimulus check money from the first two rounds.

Why a third stimulus check could be approved within weeks

The COVID-19 stimulus bill could clear the House of Representatives by Feb. 22 and go to the Senate before the end of February, if House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats have their way. If their plan to use a powerful political tool works, a third stimulus check could conceivably arrive in early March for the first wave of recipients. But whenever the bill does pass (assuming that happens), it doesn’t mean everyone would get their funds immediately. 

There are many variables that could affect you personally. For example, the 2020 tax season could have a dramatic effect on how and when you get your next payment — we’ll just have to see how it all pans out. Meanwhile, we’ve mapped out some dates the IRS and Treasury could start sending the next stimulus check, depending on who you are.

Here’s how fast the IRS might send out a third payment, and if it will face another deadline

The IRS and the Department of the Treasury set a blistering pace to deliver the second stimulus checks, starting within days of former President Donald Trump signing 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 2020 taxes. (Yes, even people who don’t otherwise file taxes.)

It appears that the IRS would automatically send a third check to recipients as it has done with the second stimulus payments, with taxpayers and nonfilers alike claiming any missing money in a Recovery Rebate Credit or something like it, for the 2021 tax season in 2022. We walk through more possible scenarios for the third stimulus check timeline here.

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Some families could get more than before. Others would see less.Angela Lang/CNET

Is there anything you can do to get your next stimulus check faster?

Possibly. 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 or not, depending on both the eligibility rules and your 2020 adjusted gross income. But taxes are now also tied to any missing stimulus money you might have to claim or trace.

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. And if you moved recently, better let the IRS and USPS know.

What other requirements might change with a third stimulus payment?

Besides possibly lowering the income cap to qualify, the proposal embraces two changes that have been popular among Democratic lawmakers. The first would expand qualifications to dependents of any age, including 13.5 million more people, according to the People’s Policy Project. 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 does not appear that people who are undocumented workers would qualify for a stimulus check in the third round.

Here’s why some people might get less stimulus check money in a third round

A targeted income limit that cuts off all households above a certain threshold is one way a household could get less stimulus check money than the total, but there are others, too. We explore that here, including ways that changes in your personal life could have an effect, like if you got a raise in the past year, or if you claim fewer dependents this time around.

Some people could get more money in the third round, even with a targeted check — here’s how

A larger maximum total per person is an obvious way your household would see more money from a third check over the second, 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 to 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 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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