Stimulus check: Qualifications, fine print, income limit, how the first payment may impact the next relief package

If negotiators in Congress can agree on a new stimulus package this year, this is what a second round of payments could look like, using March's CARES Act as a guide.

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Clifford is a managing editor at CNET, where he leads How-To coverage. He spent a handful of years at Peachpit Press, editing books on everything from the first iPhone to Python. He also worked at a handful of now-dead computer magazines, including MacWEEK and MacUser. Unrelated, he roots for the Oakland A's.
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Everything you need to know about stimulus checks, right here.

Angela Lang/CNET

The Nov. 3 presidential election is just over one week away and negotiations to pass a second stimulus check and a broad relief package remain a work in progress.

A second stimulus check of up to $1,200 for Americans who qualify could still be authorized this year, but there's still a highly contentious debate over the amount of money needed for priorities like coronavirus testing, unemployment benefits and small business loans.

While we await a final decision, we can take a look at what we know about eligibility, when a new check could arrive and how dependents could affect your total sum. If you're typically a nonfiler of federal income taxes, you may be one of the millions who still qualify for the first check, but you must claim it by Nov. 21 to receive payment before spring 2021.

If you're still waiting for that fist stimulus payment, we'll show you how to track it online or report it if it seems lost or stolen. Read on for more information, and try our stimulus check calculator for an idea of how much you could get in a second round (here's how the IRS calculates your check total). This story updates often.

Can I be taxed on my stimulus payment? If so, what are my rights?

These rules applied to the first stimulus payments approved in March and could serve as a model for a second round of payments, if there is one.

The payment is not taxable: You won't pay taxes next year on a stimulus payment you receive from the IRS in 2020. The IRS doesn't consider it income and a payment you get in 2020 will not reduce your refund or increase the amount you owe when you file your 2020 tax return next year. You also won't have to repay anything if you qualify for a lower amount in 2021.

Overdue debts: Under some circumstances with the first stimulus payment, banks and private creditors could seize your payment for outstanding debts. The current stimulus payment proposals would in most cases prohibit creditors and banks from seizing the payment to pay debts. Likewise, you are not required to hand the check over to facilities, like nursing homes and landlords, to cover expenses.

Overdue child support: With both the CARES Act and the proposed HEALS Act, you wouldn't receive a check if you owed child support. Under the House of Representatives' Heroes Act, which the Senate did not take up or veto, you would be eligible for a payment if you owed support.

In some cases, payments do need to be returned: The IRS said people who died before receipt of the payment, nonresident aliens and incarcerated people do not qualify for a check. These payments need to be returned if received, the IRS said.

A payment doesn't affect other government benefits: Your stimulus check will not count toward determining any other benefits you receive from the federal government.

Feel free to spend it: Once you receive your stimulus money, you can spend it (and the hope is that you will, to help keep the economy moving). If you receive your payment on a prepaid debit card, you can transfer the amount to your own account.

Watch this: Next stimulus checks: What to expect

Am I eligible for a stimulus payment if I receive federal benefits and have children?

  • The IRS said those who receive federal benefits, have dependent children and weren't required to file a tax return in 2018 or 2019 needed to act by late April or early May to receive a full payment this year.
  • If you didn't submit this information by the due date, the IRS will give you $1,200 this year and the additional $500 per eligible child with your return filing for tax year 2020.
  • SSI and VA beneficiaries had until May 5 to update the IRS.
  • The update deadline for people who receive Social Security, survivor, disability or railroad retirement benefits was April 22. The IRS said recipients in those groups have been scheduled to receive checks.
  • For more on how to use the Non-Filers tool, see the section below for those not required to file a tax return.

How would a second check arrive, by direct deposit or mail?

A little over 75% of the first round of stimulus payments went out as direct deposits to bank accounts, the IRS reported. Of the 159 million payments made by June, 120 million were issued as direct deposits, 35 million were sent by check and 4 million were sent in the form of a prepaid debit card (more about this below).

If you already have direct deposit set up with the government to receive your tax returns or other benefits, the IRS will use that information to send your check. A big advantage of using direct deposit is that you could be among the first to receive your payment. The first round of checks in April went to those who already had banking information on file with the IRS.

Can I see if my stimulus check has been sent?

For the first round of payments, the IRS built the Get My Payment online service, which lets you set up direct deposit for your payment and find out the status of your check and see if anything is holding the payment up.

Here's what we know about tracking your stimulus payment. The rollout of the tracking tool was a bit bumpy, but the IRS ironed out many of the early issues and it should be ready to go if Congress approves a second round of stimulus payments. As a kind of life hack to try, the US Postal Service also has a free service that can notify you when your check will arrive in the mail. You'll need to sign up for it. 

If you've moved since the last time you filed your taxes, here's where you can update your address with the IRS.

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You may meet the requirements for a payment from the federal government as part of the 2020 stimulus package.

James Martin/CNET

When do I have to get my information to the IRS?

After the IRS sent payments to those it had mailing or banking info for, it set up the Non-Filers tool to help people provide that information if the agency didn't have it yet. The IRS has extended the deadline for those still waiting for a payment to Nov. 21 to provide the necessary information to receive a check this year.

What's an EIP card, and how would I use it if I get one?

Along with paper checks and electronic payments, the US Treasury sent out 4 million prepaid debit cards called EIP cards (learn all about how EIP cards work and if you're eligible to get one instead of a check). The Treasury said it was sending these cards instead of paper checks to some eligible US residents for whom the government doesn't have banking information. The Treasury said you can use the card to make purchases, get cash from in-network ATMs and transfer funds to your personal bank account without a fee. You can also use the card at stores that accept Visa debit cards. Once you receive your EIP card in the mail, head to the EIP card page to set it up.

The debit cards came in plain envelopes and there have been reports that people may have mistakenly thrown their cards away, not realizing the letter contained their stimulus payment. The government can help you recover your card if you've lost or thrown it away. So far, there's no word on whether the Treasury would use debit cards for the second round of payments.

$20 bill in the slot of a piggy bank

Every little bit helps.

Angela Lang/CNET

How much stimulus money could I get in a second check?

For the first round of payments, the total amount of your stimulus check was based on your adjusted gross income, or AGI, from your 2019 federal tax filing or, if you haven't filed this year, your 2018 filing.

Both the Democratic and Republican proposals use a similar model for the new payments.

If you filed your 2019 federal tax return, you can find that figure on line 8b of the 2019 1040 federal tax form. It's line 7 on the 2018 1040 tax form.

What are the qualifications to get a first stimulus check and a second, if approved?

Under the CARES Act, the amount you were supposed to receive depended on your total income in 2019 or 2018. If you qualified, you were supposed to receive one payment. Congress is looking at following similar guidelines for a next round of payments.

Here's who qualified for the first round:

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

Read on for how your payment was calculated and how much you can expect. 


Your stimulus payment could arrive in the mail or via direct deposit.

Sarah Tew/CNET

How much stimulus money did single taxpayers get under the CARES Act?

A single US resident must have a Social Security number and an AGI under $75,000 to receive the full amount of $1,200. The sum decreases as your AGI goes up. If your adjusted gross income reached $99,000, you weren't eligible for the stimulus. 

Does the head of household receive the full amount of stimulus money?

If you filed as head of a household, you were to get the full $1,200 payment if your AGI is $112,500 or less, with the amount decreasing until you reach $146,500. Estimate your total.

How much could couples filing jointly get in stimulus money?

Married couples filing jointly without children with an adjusted gross income below $150,000 were to get a $2,400 payment, decreasing to zero at $198,000. Estimate your total.

How much money could you get for children and dependents?

One sticking point with the CARES Act was who qualified as a dependent. With the first round, for each child aged 16 or younger in the family, parents received a payment of $500. That excluded children over 16 and adults that were claimed as dependents. With the current proposals, dependents of any age could count toward the family's check. If you're a young person, here's how to know if you no longer count as a dependent, according to the IRS. Estimate your total.

What if I haven't filed my federal taxes yet?

While the filing deadline was July 15, the IRS said if you haven't filed your 2018 or 2019 federal taxes, that could affect your stimulus check. Be sure to include direct-deposit banking information on the return -- that could help you get your money faster for a second stimulus payment.

Could I still receive a first or second payment, even if I'm not usually required to file a tax return?

Many who normally aren't required to file a tax return -- including senior citizens and retirees, Social Security and Social Security Disability Insurance recipients and railroad retirees -- will not need to file a simple tax return to receive the payment, the IRS said.

The IRS said recipients of Supplemental Security Income will automatically receive the full $1,200 economic impact payment, with no action needed on their part.

Others, including those who haven't filed a 2018 or 2019 return because they're under the normal income limits for filing a tax return, can use the Non-Filers portal to get their payment. To get started, go to the IRS' Non-Filers: Enter Payment Info Here page and click the Enter your information button. You'll be prompted to enter personal information and, if you want to receive your stimulus check by direct deposit, banking information.

Again, the IRS said anyone who registers with the Non-Filers tool by Nov. 21 will receive the payment by the end of 2020.

I receive Social Security benefits. Am I still eligible for a check?

The Treasury Department said that Social Security beneficiaries who are not typically required to file tax returns will not need to file an abbreviated tax return to receive a payment. Instead, the IRS will use the information on Form SSA-1099 for Social Security beneficiaries who didn't file tax returns in 2018 or 2019.

The IRS said automatic payments should already be arriving for recipients of Social Security, survivors or disability insurance benefits and railroad retirement benefits. Here's everything we know right now about SSDI and stimulus checks.


Among other things, the stimulus check is intended to make it easier to put food on the table.

Sarah Tew/CNET

I'm a US citizens living abroad or in a US territory. Can I still get a payment?

The answer may be yes, though the delivery and details of your check are a little different than US citizens and certain green card holders living within the US. Here's everything you need to know.

Am I still able to set up direct deposit to have a check sent to my bank account?

If you don't have direct deposit to your bank account set up, the deadline to provide your banking details in the IRS Get My Payment portal was May 13. Those who have previously provided the IRS with their banking info can still receive their payment through direct deposit. And you can still use the Get My Payment portal to check the status of your payment.

To avoid scams, the IRS cautions you not to provide your direct deposit or other banking information to others who offer to help you set up an electronic transfer.

What else do I need to do to get my stimulus check?

For most, the federal government will automatically send your check to you electronically or in the mail, if you qualify. If you haven't filed a tax return for 2018 or 2019, the IRS said you may need to file one to receive a payment. Scroll up to the section beginning "Even if you're not usually required to file a tax return" for details on who is required to file and how.

I still haven't received my first stimulus check. What should I do?

Here are guidelines on how to contact the IRS to report your missing stimulus check, including the warning signs to watch for that warrant picking up the phone and making calls.

If you qualified for a payment, the IRS planned to mail a letter about your payment to your last known address within 15 days after it sent the money. The IRS said the letter would provide information on how the IRS made the payment and how to report not receiving the payment if you don't get it. Several CNET readers, however, reported that the letter didn't include clear instructions for what to do if you didn't receive the payment. We've asked the IRS for clarification.

The IRS added 3,500 telephone representatives in May to help with potential problems regarding payments. The representatives won't be able to help with problems specific to your payment, however. CNET readers reported being able to get through to the service and receiving help.

We have tips on how best to use your stimulus check and how to avoid being scammed. If you need more help, here's how to get financial relief