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Second stimulus check is a moving target. Here's when it could realistically arrive

Before anything happens, Congress must first approve a payment and hit a specific date for a new economic stimulus payment to reach you this year.

 001-cash-stimulus-money-time-running-out-clock-watch-check

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

Sarah Tew/CNET

Ever since May, the timeline of a second stimulus check has been a lingering unknown, at times growing very close to certainty and at other times slipping away. Once again, negotiations over the shape and size of the next stimulus bill appears to be veering away from a second direct payment -- for now. It's quite possible that talks over another relief package -- one that includes the popular, broadly supported check -- will once again resume in 2021.

While we can't totally rule out another stimulus check before the end of 2021, it isn't looking likely. However, we did the calendar tabulations to map out which date a coronavirus relief bill would have to pass and when the IRS would need to get the wheels in motion, for different groups of people to get another direct payment between now and April. If spring seems like a long ways away, it is, especially since the coronavirus has been extant in the US for a year, health officials now believe. 

Below, we've drawn up some possible timelines for when a second stimulus payment could be sent.

Some of the most important takeaways at the moment:

This story was recently updated.

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When will Congress vote on another stimulus bill? 

House Majority Speaker Steny Hoyer said Nov. 27, "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.

Right now, it seems the Senate is leaning toward a stopgap stimulus bill that doesn't include another stimulus check. With Congress under a deadline to pass a new federal budget by Dec. 11, the Senate may also try to attach more economic aid to a government funding bill.

After President-elect Joe Biden becomes US president on Jan. 20, the new administration could try again for a larger bill that could include another direct payment. That would mean a check would likely go out in February at the earliest. See the chart below for 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 of a second stimulus check? You're not alone.

Sarah Tew/CNET

If approved, how soon could the IRS make 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. 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.

When's the soonest I could receive my 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 the form in which you received the money. We explain more in the next section.

In the chart below, these speculative dates show when you might see a payment. The second scenario is possible if the House and Senate are called back to vote and the session officially extended. We also sketched out two timelines if a bill becomes law after Biden's Inauguration Day on Jan. 20 to give you an idea of how long you might have to wait.

Possible dates a second stimulus check could go out


Scenario 1 Scenario 2 Scenario 3 Scenario 4
House passes final bill Dec 9 Dec 14 Feb 1 Mar 1
Senate passes final bill Dec 10 Dec 15 Feb 2 Mar 2
President signs Dec 11 Dec 16 Feb 3 Mar 3
First direct deposits issued Week of Dec 14 Week of Dec 21 Week of Feb 8 Week of Mar 8
First paper checks sent Week of Dec 21 Week of Dec 28 Week of Feb 16 (Feb 15 is President's Day) Week of Mar 15
First EIP cards sent Week of Jan 18 Week of Jan 25 Week of Mar 15 Week of Apr 12

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