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Every way stimulus check requirements might change with a second payment

The qualifications will determine who gets money and the amount they get, if and when a stimulus bill is passed. Here's the latest information.

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A change to qualifications could bring families more money.

Angela Lang/CNET

The rules around a second stimulus check may be similar to those involving the first payment, but don't expect a carbon copy. For months, Republicans and Democrats have butted heads over the details of a larger COVID-19 relief package, with the second payment of up to $1,200 per person getting caught in the cross fire.

For the most part, the terms seem to line up with the CARES Act rules passed in March. But there've been enough notable variations since then to signal that the rules regarding a second stimulus check, whenever the money comes, could change. Even a minor nudge in one direction or the other could have a major monetary effect for tens of millions of people. (If there's no second check, here's how you might be able to benefit from a stimulus bill).

Though it's true that not everyone will qualify for another infusion of stimulus cash, over half the US population could expect at least some funds. The IRS formula to determine how much you get is based on factors like your ageyearly income, the number and age of household dependents, your child support situation and tax status. Nonfilers like older adults and people who receive Supplemental Security Income or Social Security Disability Insurance may also meet the qualifications. 

Of course, this is assuming negotiations on a new stimulus package resume in earnest soon, either before or after President-elect Joe Biden is sworn into office on Jan. 20 (here's what could happen if no bill materializes by then). Read on for more information about what may happen to stimulus eligibility in a second round of stimulus payments. We update this story often.

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How the qualifications could change with a new bill

There still appears to be bipartisan support for more stimulus aid, though the sides are still far apart in what they want to spend. Here's what's in the proposals that are still on the table:

Change definition of a dependent: The CARES Act capped eligible dependents as kids age 16 and younger. One proposal this summer expanded the definition to any dependent -- child or adult -- you could claim on federal taxes. That means families with older kids or older adults at home could potentially see $500 more in their check total per individual if that proposal is adopted.

Read moreNobody can take your stimulus check away, right? Not quite

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If the definition of a dependent changes, your family could benefit.

Angela Lang/CNET

More money per child dependent: The most recent White House proposal would keep the definition of a child dependent, but increase the sum per individual to an extra $1,000 on the final household check. Here's how to estimate your total stimulus money and here's the IRS' formula for families.

Stop seizing overdue child support: The Democrats this summer pushed to let a parent who owed child support receive a payment; the original CARES Act allowed the government to redirect payments to cover overdue support.

More clarity on people who are incarcerated: After months of back and forth, the IRS is now sending checks to those who are incarcerated and eligible for a payment. A Republican plan this summer would have excluded the payments.

Include noncitizens: The CARES Act made a Social Security number a requirement for a payment. Other proposals would have expanded the eligibility to those with an ITIN instead of a Social Security number because they are classified as a resident or nonresident alien. A Republican plan this summer would have excluded those with an ITIN.

Would the income limits stay the same with another check?

Under the CARES Act, here are the income limits based on your adjusted gross income for the previous year that would qualify you for a stimulus check, assuming you met all the other requirements. (More below for people who don't normally file taxes.)

  • You're a single tax filer and earn less than $99,000.
  • You file as the head of a household and earn under $146,500.
  • You file jointly with a spouse and earn less than $198,000 combined.

Who could qualify for a second stimulus check

Qualifying group Likely to be covered by the final bill
Individuals An AGI of less than $99,000 (Same as CARES)
Head of household An AGI of less than $146,500 (Same as CARES)
Couple filing jointly An AGI less than $198,000 (Same as CARES)
Dependents of any age No limit (HEALS proposal; up to 3 in Heroes)
US citizens living abroad Yes, same as CARES
Citizens of US territories Likely, with payments handled by each territory's tax authority (CARES)
SSDI and tax nonfilers Likely, but with an extra step to file (more below)
Uncertain status Could be set by court ruling or bill
Incarcerated people Excluded under CARES through IRS interpretation, judge overturned
Undocumented immigrants Qualifying "alien residents" are currently included under CARES
Disqualified group Unlikely to be covered by the final bill
Noncitizens who pay taxes (ITIN) Proposed in Heroes, unlikely to pass in Senate
Spouses, kids of ITIN filers Excluded under CARES, more below
People who owe child support Included in Heroes proposal, but excluded under CARES

What role do taxes play in how much I could get? What if I don't file taxes? 

For most people, taxes and stimulus checks are tightly connected. For example, the most important factor in setting income limits is adjusted gross income, or AGI, which determines how much of the $1,200 for individuals and $2,400 for married couples you could receive if you meet the other requirements.

Our stimulus check calculator can show you how much money you could potentially expect from a second check, based on your most recent tax filing. Read below for your eligibility if you don't typically file taxes.

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How much stimulus money you could get depends on who you are.

Angela Lang/CNET

What do retired and older adults need to know?

Many older adults, including retirees over age 65, received a first stimulus check under the CARES Act, and would likely be eligible for a second one. For older adults and retired people, factors like your tax filingsyour AGI, your pension, if you're part of the SSDI program (more below) and whether the IRS considers you a dependent would likely affect your chances of receiving a second payment. 

I share custody or owe child support. How does that affect eligibility?

Due to a specific rule, if you and the other parent of your child dependent alternate years claiming your child on your tax return, you may both be entitled to receive $500 more in your first stimulus check, and in the second if that rule doesn't change.

If you owe child support, your stimulus money may be garnished for arrears (the amount you owe).

I haven't submitted my federal tax return for two years. Can I still get money?

People who weren't required to file a federal income tax return in 2018 or 2019 may still be eligible to receive the first stimulus check under the CARES Act. If that guideline doesn't change for a second stimulus check, this group would qualify again. Here are reasons you might not have been required to file:

  • You're over 24, you're not claimed as a dependent and your income is less than $12,200.
  • You're married filing jointly and together your income is less than $24,400.
  • You have no income.
  • You receive federal benefits, such as Supplemental Security Income or Social Security Disability Insurance. See below for more on SSDI.

With the first stimulus check, nonfilers needed to provide the IRS with some information before they could receive their payment. (If you still haven't received a first check even though you were eligible, the IRS said you claim it on your taxes in 2021.) The IRS is also trying to contact 9 million Americans who may fall into this category but who haven't requested their payment.

I'm part of the SSI or SSDI program. Could I get a stimulus check?

Those who are part of the SSI or SSDI program also qualify for a check under the CARES Act. Recipients wouldn't receive their payments via their Direct Express card, which the government typically uses to distribute federal benefits, but through a non-Direct Express bank account or as a paper check. SSDI recipients also need to use the IRS' Non-Filers tool to request a payment for themselves and dependents.

For more, here's what we know about the major proposals for a second stimulus package. We also have information on unemployment insurance, what you can do if you've lost your job, if you could receive two refund checks from the IRS and what to know about evictions.