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How much was the first stimulus check? Your tax return may need that total

Before you file your 2020 tax return, use this handy stimulus payment calculator to estimate how much your household should have received with the first payment.

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You may need to file for missing stimulus check money on your tax return. We'll help you calculate what you were owed from the first stimulus check.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Tax season is already underway (the new deadline is May 17), which means it's time to gather your W-2s and 1099 forms. And this year, you may also need IRS notices 1444 and 1444-B, which verify how much stimulus check money you've received with the first and second checks (more on those forms below). 

The first two stimulus checks were issued in 2020, and if you received any amount from these payments, you'll need to know how much before you file your 2020 taxes. Here's why: If you didn't receive your checks in full (or at all), your 2020 tax return is your opportunity to file for the Recovery Rebate Credit and recoup that missing stimulus money

In the meantime, the IRS is sending third stimulus checks for up to $1,400 apiece to people who qualify for the new eligibility rulesand income limits. Whether you already got your third stimulus check or you're still waiting, it's important to look back at what you received -- or didn't receive -- from checks one and two. (And here's what we know about a fourth stimulus check). This story was updated.

How much was the first stimulus check and when was it sent out?

The CARES Act was signed into law on March 27, 2020, and the first stimulus check, which maxed out at $1,200 per person (with an extra $500 per dependent), would have arrived as early as mid-April 2020, either as a paper check in your mailbox or via direct deposit into your bank account. 

If you don't have an IRS Notice 1444 and you know (or think) you received money from the first stimulus check via direct deposit, start your search in your April bank statements. If you still can't find a record of receipt, use our first stimulus check calculator below to figure out how much you should have received. You can then find what you need to claim your money by logging into your tax account on the IRS website.

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What about the second stimulus check amount and dates?

Congress approved another economic relief bill at the end of last year, and the second round of stimulus check payments began sending as early as Dec. 29, 2020. This payment capped out at $600 per person, and another $600 per qualifying child dependent. If you don't have IRS Notice 1444-B and can't find anything in your December and January bank statements, check out our handy stimulus check 2 calculator to get an idea of what you were entitled to and then head to the IRS website to get what you need.

Stimulus check 1 calculator

Although there's a new set of stimulus check qualifications for the third check, we left this calculator from the first stimulus check here for the sake of posterity, in case you wanted to compare estimates or to see if you got the amount you thought you would (if not, here's how to file for a Recovery Rebate Credit with the IRS). 

By the way, the calculator doesn't retain your personal details in any way. Keep in mind that it provides an estimate of the total amount you might have received -- it isn't a final figure from the IRS.

Important: Make sure you have your AGI

CNET's stimulus check calculator tool is based on rules from the CARES Act that was passed in March, 2020. It's intended to give you an estimate of what you should have received in your first stimulus check. To use the tool, you'll need your adjusted gross income, or AGI, from your 2019 or 2018 tax information. You can find that figure on line 8b of the 2019 1040 tax form and line 7 on the 2018 1040 tax form. (And when you go to file your 2020 tax return, it'll be on line 11 of the 2020 1040 federal tax form.)

How to use the $1,200 stimulus calculator

The CARES Act allowed Americans to claim child dependents for $500 each, as long as they're 16 years old or younger (that is, under 17 years old). Here are exceptions to the current rules regarding when someone who's 17 to 24 years old can claim a stimulus check. If you don't typically file taxes, or have different circumstances, this provides more information.

Calculate your stimulus payment

Use details from your 2018 or 2019 tax return, whichever is most recent.

1. Choose your filing status below.

2. What was your adjusted gross income (AGI)?

3. How many qualified dependents did you claim in your taxes?

Calculate

Note: If you aren't able to view the calculator, please click this link. If on a mobile device, allow the calculator to load into a new browser tab.

If you don't usually file taxes, how to estimate your stimulus money

With the first checks, the IRS automatically sent stimulus checks to many who normally aren't required to file a tax return -- including older adultsSocial Security and SSDI and SSI recipients and railroad retirees. (In some situations, eligible individuals and families who didn't file taxes needed to use the IRS Non-Filers tool to provide the IRS with enough information to send a check.) Some who didn't file taxes may be eligible for a payment but haven't yet claimed it. 

If this is the case for you, enter your best guess where it asks for your adjusted gross income.

Reminder: Here's who qualified to receive a first stimulus check

In broad strokes, here's the income cap under the CARES Act:

  • You're a single US citizen or resident alien and have an adjusted gross income less than $99,000
  • You file as the head of a household and earn under $146,500
  • You file jointly without children and earn less than $198,000

For everything to know about the first payment, see our guide to the first round of checks. We also have an idea for how quickly the IRS could send out the third round of payments.