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Stimulus check facts: The top 12 things you should know today

Here's what you want to know about a second stimulus check right now.

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We have about a month left in 2020, and the future of a second stimulus check is still uncertain.

Sarah Tew/CNET

How big could your household's second stimulus check be and how might it even be smaller? What happens if a final COVID-19 bill doesn't include another round of direct payments? And if it does, what does your priority group have to do with how quickly you'd receive the next delivery of stimulus money?

There's a lot we still don't know for sure and won't know until negotiators finally come together to agree on a plan. And while many Congress members hope for another package, there's also speculation about what could happen if a stimulus package doesn't pass before President-elect Joe Biden takes office.

Until all the dates, rules and regulations fall into place, here's everything we do know about a second stimulus check right now, including who could get the next stimulus check first and which qualifications might change.

Here are 12 of our best guesses on what could happen with a second payment based on the terms of the first stimulus check and the various proposals that've come across the table, including Biden's own ideas. We update this story often.

A second stimulus check may not arrive in 2020

Congress is back in session Monday and has scant time to compromise on more COVID-19 relief aid. If Republicans and Democrats scramble to make a deal on a smaller package, it isn't clear if a second stimulus check would make the cut. It's possible that a bill with a check could pass in 2021 instead. Or it may be that no bill will pass at all before New Year's day. If more COVID-19 relief aid goes through without a second check, here's how you may still benefit. We'll know a lot more when talks start up again.

The IRS issues checks by group type. Which is yours?

Eligible Americans got the first stimulus money 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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The next payment could arrive more speedily than the first

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.

You can prepare now to get your second check quicker

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.

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Will you get a second stimulus check? Not everyone qualifies.

Angela Lang/CNET

Some people won't qualify this time around

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.

You may get a smaller -- or larger -- payment this time

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 in the family, starting a new job or becoming unemployed -- that might also make your second stimulus check smaller. Here's how you can estimate how much you'd probably get, and here's how the IRS determines how much money you get.

The IRS still owes millions of people catch-up stimulus money

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

This formula determines how much stimulus money you get

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 share

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 payments 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.

Rules and exceptions are key to your final check total

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.

Here's who can take your stimulus money away

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.