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How soon could the IRS send your second stimulus check? The update on a timeline

We circled the dates Congress must hit for a new economic stimulus package to reach you by the end of 2020.

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How quickly could the IRS send your money? We have some potential dates.

Sarah Tew/CNET

When it comes to the delivery of a second stimulus check, there are a few ways to look at the timing of a future package. The first is, when will Congress vote on a coronavirus funding bill that certifies another direct payment. There's also the question of how quickly the US Treasury and IRS can mobilize payments to go out. Lastly, when will you personally receive the stimulus money that your household is entitled to?

We break down these categories into groups, including some important dates -- based on the actual Congressional calendar -- that are important in painting a picture of when another stimulus check could realistically come your way. 

Just so we don't get ahead of ourselves, it's important to remember a few more things:

Read on for more information about the stimulus check timeline. This story recently updated.

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When could Congress pass the next stimulus bill? 

House Majority Speaker Steny Hoyer said Nov. 27 that "The House may complete legislative business early the week of Dec. 7," including work on a stimulus bill. While the package has been a moving target for months, this does give us another date to go on, and you'll see that reflected in Scenario 1 in the chart below.

If no stimulus check is approved by the time Joe Biden becomes US president on Jan. 20, his administration could try again. That would mean a check would likely go out in February at the earliest. See the chart below for specific, but possible, dates. (Here are separate stimulus measures Biden could take if there's no stimulus bill by inauguration).

Read moreHow big will your next stimulus check be? Calculate your estimate

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Hanging on to hope in a second stimulus check? You're not alone.

Sarah Tew/CNET

How quickly could the IRS send a second payment?

In August, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said it would take about a week from the time that another direct payment is approved to the time the IRS can process the first batch. 

"I can get out 50 million payments really quickly. A lot of it into people's direct accounts," Mnuchin said then. 

If a check doesn't arrive until 2021, there will be a new Treasury secretary -- it isn't clear if a transition of power would cause a delay in sending out money. President-elect Joe Biden has selected Janet Yellen, the previous chair of the US Federal Reserve, though she would need to be confirmed by the Senate before taking office.

Even if the checks were to go out faster the second time by following the existing IRS protocol from the first payment, that doesn't necessarily mean your stimulus money would arrive a week after a bill went live. The following section explains more.

How soon could you get your next stimulus check?

Here's one stimulus check truth of many: Not everyone will get a payment at the same time. With the first check, the IRS divided stimulus payments into three main groups depending on which form it was you received the money. We explain more in the next section.

Directly below, these speculative dates show you when you might see a payment -- if a bill becomes law before or after President-Elect Joe Biden's Inauguration Day on Jan. 20.

Possible dates a second stimulus check could go out


Scenario 1 Scenario 2 Scenario 3 Scenario 4
House passes final bill Dec. 9
Feb. 1 Mar. 1 Apr. 5
Senate passes final bill Dec. 10
Feb. 2 Mar. 2 Apr. 6
President signs Dec. 11
Feb. 3 Mar. 3 Apr. 7
First direct deposits issued Week of Dec. 14 Week of Feb. 8 Week of Mar. 8 Week of Apr. 12
First paper checks sent Week of Dec. 21 Week of Feb. 16 (Feb. 15 is President's Day) Week of Mar. 15 Week of Apr. 19
First EIP cards sent Week of Jan. 18
Week of Mar. 15 Week of Apr. 12 Week of May 10

Why does the IRS stagger the payment schedule anyway?

There are a few reasons the IRS doesn't send all the stimulus payments at once. One is the sheer volume of disbursements it has to process. With the first check, the IRS has said it could deliver 5 million to 7 million paper stimulus checks a week, starting with people whose adjusted gross income, or AGI is less than $20,000, and then moving to people whose AGIs are progressively larger, according to the Government Accountability Office.

Another reason payments come at different times for different people depends on the way they get the cash. By summer, the IRS had sent money to at least 160 million people, with people the federal government had direct deposit information for receiving their checks first. Physical checks and EIP payments followed, creating a de facto priority order that could result in some Americans receiving their checks days or even weeks before others. See below for more information on the different payment groups.

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When it comes to stimulus checks, timing is critical.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Some people with more complicated personal situations are still waiting for their checks or even for catch-up payments. People in this group may not be able to get their stimulus allotment until the middle of 2021.

We expect the IRS will adopt roughly the same system for sending out a second stimulus check in 2020 or 2021 as it did with the first stimulus check, which was approved in March as part of the CARES Act.

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

More on the five different stimulus check payment groups

Direct deposit recipients: People who already have their direct deposit information on file with the IRS or who provide that info when and if registration opens again should be first in line to receive a stimulus check. An electronic transfer of funds is faster and more efficient, which is why this group largely got their first payment faster.

Social Security beneficiaries: With the first stimulus payment, many Social Security beneficiaries who had direct deposit information on file with the federal government received checks in the first week, though not always the first day.

People who get paper checks: The IRS began to mail checks about a week later to those without direct deposit data on file. 

EIP card recipients: Economic impact payment debit cards are prepaid Visa cards the IRS sent to about 4 million people starting in mid-May. If the IRS follows the same payment priority order, this group could begin to see their payment weeks after the first direct deposit transfers take place.

People with more complex situations: This category includes people who received a check after June, are still waiting to receive their stimulus payment or who didn't know they need to complete an extra step. Direct payments will continue through the end of 2020 for some individuals who weren't part of the previous groups. Here's what could be holding up the stimulus check delivery for some people and how to contact the IRS to report a missing, lost or stolen check.

The IRS will continue to send the first checks in December

While the majority of people in line to receive a stimulus check got theirs by the end of July, up until late November, there were still millions of people who were eligible for stimulus money that hadn't received it. That includes people who didn't receive $500 allotted for their dependents, some who are involved in child support situations and nonfilers who may be owed a stimulus check (including older adults and people who receive SSI or SSDI). 

If you're a US citizen abroad or live in a US territory and didn't receive a check as expected, you may also need to investigate. And a new court ruling has made it possible for millions of people who are incarcerated to get a check, even after the IRS changed its rules to exclude this group.

The Nov. 21 deadline to claim the payment in 2020 has passed, but you'll be able to claim a catch-up payment or error adjustment during tax season 2021.

If you're still waiting on the first round of payments, you can track the status of your stimulus check, learn how to report your no-show check to the IRS and find possible reasons why your stimulus check still hasn't arrived. The IRS has said it will continue to send payments through Dec. 10, according to the Government Accountability Office.