9 weird stimulus check facts you'll definitely want to know

Stimulus checks are anything but straightforward, and even the smallest details matter.

Clifford Colby Managing Editor
Clifford is a managing editor at CNET, where he leads How-To coverage. He spent a handful of years at Peachpit Press, editing books on everything from the first iPhone to Python. He also worked at a handful of now-dead computer magazines, including MacWEEK and MacUser. Unrelated, he roots for the Oakland A's.
Expertise Tech from browser security to password managers and government programs from mail-in voting to federal assistance
Clifford Colby
4 min read

You want to keep an eye on these stimulus check details.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Three stimulus checks. "Plus-up" payments. In the mail, or right to your bank account. You have a lot to keep straight about the third and earlier two stimulus payments if you want to make sure you've received everything the IRS owes you. Just for the third stimulus check, you want to know how much you qualify for -- if you do qualify and who else in your family is eligible.

But there are a lot of smaller, overlooked facts you want to watch out for, too. For example, did you know that there's a deadline for how long you have to cash a stimulus check? Or that a married couple could get two checks, each for half the amount they are due?

The IRS started sending the third round of stimulus checks a month ago, and has now delivered more than 156 million payments worth approximately $372 billion. The agency is still sending payments out, however, with those who receive federal benefits now getting their $1,400 checks. Here are nine finicky details about stimulus checks. You may also get much more money in the expanded child tax credit and with $300 federal unemployment checks. Here's what we know about whether a fourth stimulus check is in the works.

The IRS may send you a 'plus-up' payment if it shorted you your full amount

While the IRS is letting you claim any missing stimulus money you are owed from the first two payments as a credit on your taxes this year, if your income was lower in 2020 than 2019 or you added a new child or dependent to your 2020 tax return, you may qualify for a larger check this time around. 

Instead of making you wait till you file next year to claim the missing amount, the IRS is making "plus-up" payments, starting this week. The IRS is automatically recalculating and then sending these plus-up adjustments, without your needing to request them in an amended tax return form.

Watch this: Stimulus check 3: How much money you'll get

If the IRS miscalculated your payment and overpaid you, you may be able to keep the difference

If your check is bigger than what you qualified for, say, you made more in 2020 than you did in 2019, but the IRS calculated your payment based on your 2019 taxes, you won't be expected to return that money

However, if you received money for someone who died, for example, or a dependent who someone else claims on their taxes, the IRS does expect you to return that money.

You have one year to use a paper check

While most of this third round of payments have gone out as electronic transfers to bank accounts, if the IRS doesn't have direct-deposit information for you, it may send your payment in the mail as a paper check. As with all US Treasury checks, you have one year to cash the check before it expires. If you miss that deadline, you can request a replacement for the expired check.


You have a year to cash your stimulus check.


If your check was lost, stolen or destroyed, you can request a replacement

If you suspect your payment by paper check was lost, stolen or destroyed, you can start the process of receiving a payment by requesting a payment trace. You can also request a replacement for a lost EIP card.

Parents who share custody of a kid could both get money (for the first two checks)

With the first two payments, parents who aren't married and share joint custody of a child could each receive a payment for the same kid, if they alternated years claiming those children on their taxes. Congress closed off this loophole for the third check.


Babies can increase your payment total.

Sarah Tew/CNET

If you have a new dependent in 2021, they count toward your stimulus payment

If you added a baby or new dependent on your 2020 federal tax filing, you qualify for stimulus money for that addition, as much as $1,100 by claiming it on your taxes this year.

The same goes for this year, too. If you had a baby in 2021 -- or adopted a child or added a dependent -- you can get a stimulus payment for that new dependent. You will need to wait until you file your taxes in 2022, however, to claim that money as a rebate credit.

13.5 million more dependents qualify this time

With the CARES Act that authorized the first check a year ago, 69.8 million dependents (defined as age 16 and younger) counted toward a family's payment. With the new rules around dependents, 13.5 million more people now fall under that definition.

Watch this: Your tax questions answered in 3 minutes

You may qualify for a larger check if the IRS didn't calculate your unemployment benefits correctly

The American Rescue Plan excludes up to $10,200 of unemployment benefits paid in 2020 from counting as income

Some are reporting, however, that the IRS calculated the amount of the third stimulus payment before applying the exclusion, resulting in either a smaller stimulus check than they qualified for or no check at all. If you suspect you fall into this group, double-check your calculation for how much you should receive. We've contacted the IRS for more information on what to do if this is your situation.

Married couples may get two checks

In some cases, the IRS said, married taxpayers who file a joint tax return may get their third payment as two separate payments. Half the amount may come as a direct deposit and the other half will go out in the mail. The checks could come within weeks of each other. The IRS suggests that each spouse check the IRS' Get My Payment app using their Social Security number for the payment status. We've contacted the IRS for more information.

For more details, here's how to calculate how much you'll get, everything you need to know about the third stimulus check and when you can expect your payment to arrive in your bank account or by mail.