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Are you old enough to receive a stimulus check? What it takes to qualify as an adult

Are you eligible to get your own stimulus check, contribute to your family's overall amount or get no money at all? We'll tell you how the eligibility rules for the third stimulus payment apply to you.

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Find out if you're eligible to get a stimulus check on your own or if you'll be claimed as a dependent.

Angela Lang/CNET

The IRS pushed out another wave of third stimulus check payments last week as direct deposits (now closed) and by mail as paper checks and EIP cards. Under the new bill, eligible adults qualify for a $1,400 check and their dependents qualify for the same amount to add to the family's overall total (calculate your stimulus estimate here).

This time, the third payment differs in its definition of an eligible dependent: People of any age are eligible now. So, if you're between the ages of 17 and 24 -- those left out of the first two payments -- what does that mean for you? Do older adults qualify for their own check, or will it go toward a family total? Could you be left out entirely?

We'll help you figure out where you stand -- whether you're a student, living on your own and are employed, if you're in the military, if you receive SSI, SSDI or veteran benefits, if you're married or a parent, or if you're in a child-support situation. Since it's still tax season, we'll help explain how some young adults could get the $1,200 stimulus payment or $600 check. Here's why you may suspect a stimulus check holdup and how to solve the problem. (And here's the situation with a fourth check.) This story was recently updated.

Who does the IRS consider an adult or a dependent for stimulus payments?

To qualify for your own third stimulus check, you need to have filed your 2019 or 2020 taxes independently, which means no one else claimed you on their taxes as a dependent. You also had to have an adjusted gross income, or AGI, of under $75,000 to receive the full amount. (The sum decreases as your AGI goes up, and this time around, if you make over $80,000 as a single taxpayer, you aren't eligible for a check.)

There are two different sets of rules for who counts as an adult or a dependent under current tax law, according to Janet Holtzblatt, a senior fellow at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center

One is the support test. If you're unmarried, you don't claim children as your own dependents, your parents provide you with financial support equal to or greater than half of your annual income and you made less than $4,200 in 2019 or less than $4,300 in 2020, then your parents can still claim you as their dependent. Another is the residency test: If you're a full-time student under the age of 24 who resides with an adult taxpayer more than half of the year (unless you're living on a college campus), you can be claimed as a dependent, no matter how much money you make. 

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The IRS will use your 2019 tax return to determine your eligibility for a third stimulus check. However, filing your 2020 tax returns could help you get your payment based on that income if the IRS processes your payment after you file. We recommend filing your taxes as soon as possible so the agency has your most recent information on file -- especially if 2020 was the first year that you were financially independent, and no longer counted as a dependent. (Find out what else you need to know about the third check arriving during tax season, and the potential pitfalls.)

What can a 17- to 24-year-old do to qualify for their own stimulus check?

It depends. If you became financially independent in 2020 and you file your 2020 tax return in spring 2021 independently, you'll receive the first stimulus check of up to $1,200 and the second check of up to $600 sometime in 2021 on your tax refund, Holtzblatt said. All you have to do is file your tax return for 2020 and claim the money as Recovery Rebate Credit, so long as you meet the regular eligibility criteria for a stimulus payment. 

If you're filing taxes independently, the amount of money you would get in a second stimulus payment would depend on your adjusted gross income, which you can also find on your taxes. Check out our story on how to calculate how much money you should have gotten in a second check. But if a parent or guardian claims you as a dependent on their taxes, you won't get a check of your own. And if you're in that 17-to-24 age range, you likely won't get any money allocated toward your family's payment, either. 

For a third check, if you're in the 17-to-24 age range and listed as a dependent, you'll be eligible for a payment of up to $1,400. However, that money will be added to your family's total, unless one of the situations below applies to you.

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College students under age 24 may still be claimed as dependents by their parents or guardians.

Angela Lang/CNET

What to know if someone claims you as a dependent on their taxes, but you work or go to college

Even if you work or go to college full-time (or both), you still count as a dependent if you meet either the support test or the residency test mentioned above. Basically, if you rely on your parents or guardians for more than half of your financial support, if you made less than $4,200 in 2019 or you're a full-time student under age 24 who resides with a parent or guardian while not in school, or both, you likely still meet the requirements to count as a dependent. 

However, many dependents still have to file tax returns, too. Income for dependents falls into two categories: earned income (money earned from working) and unearned income (money earned from investments like the stock market). Those requirements for filing are based on income, so if dependents are receiving either earned or unearned income, they will need to file a tax return or their parents will need to file a tax return for them.

Yes, emancipated minors are able to get a stimulus check

If you've been emancipated from your parents by a court or through marriage (state laws apply in both cases), you likely wouldn't count as anyone's dependent (assuming you provide more than half of your own financial support and don't live with your parent or guardian anymore), and would file taxes independently. So you'd be eligible for your own stimulus check if you met the requirements. 

Enlisted in the US armed forces? You likely can get your own payment

If you're age 17 or older and have enlisted in the US armed forces, you're considered emancipated from your parents or guardians and would file taxes independently. Therefore, you would be eligible for your own stimulus check if you met the requirements. 

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Would you get your own stimulus check, contribute to the family share or none of the above?

Sarah Tew/CNET

Information to know if you're younger than 24 but married or have a child

If you're under age 24 and are married or have a child of your own whom you claim as a dependent, you're considered independent by the IRS. Therefore, you'd be eligible for your own stimulus check if you meet the requirements

I pay or receive child support money. Do I qualify?

Typically, the custodial parent is the one who claims the child on their taxes, while the noncustodial parent pays child support. There are some cases where your stimulus check may have been garnished to help pay your child support. If you owe more than $150 in overdue child support (called arrears), your state may reserve the right to garnish some or all of your first and third stimulus checks, based on how much you owe (but not the second, unless you're claiming a Recovery Rebate Credit). 

If you're owed child support, you may receive money garnished from your child's other parent, though it may take a while to get to you after it is processed by the state. 

For parents who have joint custody, it's possible that both could get an extra $500 per child dependent as part of their check. It may be the case again with the $600 per-child payment. We're still inquiring about the $1,400 for the third payment. Find out everything you need to know about stimulus checks and child support here

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Stimulus check money can be elusive at times, and the rules can differ based on your age and personal circumstances.

Sarah Tew/CNET

What SSI or SSDI recipients should know about qualifying for a payment

If you're a young person who is part of the Supplemental Security Income or Social Security Disability Insurance program, things can get complicated when it comes to stimulus payments. Here are three different circumstances people who receive these benefits may face, and how it might work for you, according to Holtzblatt: 

Scenario 1: You are a full-time student and live with your parents for more than half the year (you're considered to be living at home even if you live in a dorm part of the time). You could be claimed as a dependent by your parents and therefore would not be eligible for a stimulus payment of your own. 

Scenario 2: You aren't a student, but receive more than half of your support or living expenses from your parents or others (like grandparents). If you meet certain other criteria, the person providing support could claim you as a dependent, and therefore you would not be eligible for a stimulus payment. 

Scenario 3: More than half of your support/living expenses are paid by your SSI or SSDI check. As long as you're not a full-time student or living at home, you cannot be claimed as a dependent, and thus would be eligible for a stimulus payment. If that was the case for you, you should receive your check automatically.

Find out more about how SSDI and SSI impact stimulus payments here.

I think the IRS made a mistake with me. What do I do?

Millions of people didn't receive their first two stimulus checks due to IRS errors and other issues. You can claim any missing money from the first two checks by using the Recovery Rebate Credit on your 2020 tax return (even people who are considered nonfilers). In certain cases, you'll want to file a payment trace with the IRS

The IRS hasn't released guidance on how to correct errors made with the third check. We suggest keeping the payment confirmation letter the IRS sends you -- you'll need it if you file a claim for missing money. That could potentially happen before the Dec. 31, 2021, cutoff the IRS has to send checks (according to the stimulus bill), or possibly during tax season 2021 (in 2022).

For more information, find out how soon you could expect a third stimulus check and how much money you and your family could be eligible for with a third check