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Next stimulus check facts: The truth about qualifications, payment size, more

Here's everything you need to know about your second stimulus check right now.

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The election results are in, but the future of a second stimulus check is still uncertain.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Will Congress go big with the next stimulus package and include a second stimulus check? What could President-elect Joe Biden do if a stimulus package doesn't pass by the time he takes office on Jan. 20?

Right now, there are as many things we know about a second stimulus check as we don't -- and that's assuming Congress passes a new stimulus bill with another direct payment in the first place. With negotiations over the next COVID-19 relief package waiting to begin again in the final sprint of 2020, there's still much we can predict, including who could get the next stimulus check first, how it could bring you more money than the first payment and which qualifications might change.

We can also take an educated guess at who may not get a second payment by looking at the terms of the first stimulus check and the various proposals that have come across the table, including Biden's plan. Here are the key facts about stimulus checks to know right now. This story updates often.

A second stimulus check may have to wait

Until Congress reconvenes on Nov. 30, it isn't clear if a second stimulus check will make the cut, if Republicans and Democrats scramble to compromise on a smaller agreement until a larger package passes. It's also possible that no bill will pass at all before 2021. If more COVID-19 relief aid goes through without a second check, here's how you might still benefit. We'll know a lot more after the House of Representatives and Senate return and talks start up again.

The IRS issues checks by groups: Know which one you're in

Eligible Americans got the first stimulus payment at different times, often because of the way they got paid, and a second payment would be similar. For example, people who have set up direct deposit -- an electronic transfer of funds into their bank account -- with the IRS could get their checks weeks before those who receive a paper check or prepaid EIP card in the mail. We identified five priority groups based on the first stimulus checks. 

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You can prepare to get a check faster, when it comes

If a second stimulus check is approved, it's expected that the IRS will move quickly to send them out. There are steps you can take now to get your payment faster. We've identified ways to help make sure you're in one of the first waves to get your stimulus money, not the last.

The next payment may arrive quicker than the first one did

With the first check, the IRS learned how to mobilize and deliver stimulus money, and said it worked out many of the difficulties in the process. If a second check is approved, it's likely the agency could speed up the process of sending out the first set of payments. The tracking tool is already up and running, the system is in place and it's probable that the majority of people who qualified for a first check would also receive another. 

The timeline is constantly changing, but we've mapped out potential dates a check could be sent if approved before -- or after -- the Jan. 20 inauguration.

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Will you get a second stimulus check? The qualifications could be dizzying.

Angela Lang/CNET

Some people won't qualify for a stimulus check this time

With the first round of checks, Congress set income limits based on your adjusted gross income that were one line separating who did and didn't qualify for a stimulus check. But that's just the beginning. Your status as a dependent or adult, your citizenship and more also helped decide if you got all or some of the first check -- and those things will likely also affect the second. Read more about stimulus payment qualifications here.

Your second payment may not be the same amount as the first 

If the eligibility requirements change with the second check, you and your family could find yourself with more money in your payment, or less. For example, a new rule could potentially get you a bigger sum. But there may have also been changes to your life circumstances -- such as a birth or death, starting a new job or becoming unemployed -- that might also affect the amount you got. Here's how you can estimate how much you'd probably get, and here's how the IRS determines how much money you get.

Millions of people are still missing all or part of the first stimulus check

Guess what? The IRS might still owe you money from the first stimulus check. It may be that some money was left out for child dependents, or that an interpretation of a rule changed (this really happened), that you fell through the cracks with your personal situation, that you didn't think you qualified but you actually do and need to take an extra step, or that some other error kept you from getting the total amount you were entitled to. The Nov. 21 deadline to file your claim has passed; now, you'll need to wait until tax season in 2021 to register for a payment from the IRS.

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You still have a few weeks to claim a stimulus check this year.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The IRS follows a formula for stimulus payment calculations

Predicting what your payment could end up being is not straightforward. The IRS used a formula to determine how much stimulus money you got for the first check, and something similar for a second payment would determine whether you receive the full amount, a partial payment or far more than $1,200 if you have kids.

It also explains how you might still be able to get some stimulus money even if your family's yearly income exceeds the limit set out by the CARES Act in March. The calculation starts with your household's total adjusted gross income, adds on the money allotted to qualifying dependents and then deducts from the total based on your income bracket (as defined by the CARES Act). 

You don't have to file taxes to get your stimulus check

While taxes and stimulus checks are tied together, you don't need to have filed a tax return to qualify for a check. If you're over age 65, for example, and receive Supplemental Security Income or Social Security Disability Insurance, you could still qualify for a stimulus check under the CARES Act. You might need to take an extra step to request your payment (you had until Nov. 21 for the first batch) in order to get your check.

You won't be taxed on stimulus money in 2021

The IRS doesn't consider stimulus money to be income. That means a payment you get this year won't reduce your refund in 2021 or increase the amount you owe when you file your 2020 tax return. You also won't have to repay part of your stimulus check if you qualify for a lower amount in 2021. The IRS said if you didn't receive everything you were owed this year, you can claim it as a credit on your 2020 federal income tax return by filing in 2021.

Many rules and exceptions apply

If a second stimulus check is approved, there will be lots of small details, rules and exceptions that may be confusing. While some situations will be easy to understand, others concerning you and your dependents might make it unclear if you're eligible and how much money you might receive -- there are many fringe cases.

For example:

Certain issues could delay your check, such as if you recently moved.

In some cases, your stimulus money may be seized

In most cases, your check is yours to spend or save how you want; it isn't taxable. But there are a few situations where the federal government or a debt collector can take all or part of your check to cover a debt, such as if you owe child support.

For more information about stimulus payments, here's what's happening with stimulus negotiations right now, what President-elect Joe Biden plans for a stimulus bill and which federal benefits expire at the end of the year.