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Stimulus check timeline under threat? Here's what could delay your third payment

The $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill is on track -- or is it? A provision in the package could throw a wrench in the schedule, but other things could also complicate when you would get your next stimulus check. Here's the deal.

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You could be weeks away from receiving a new stimulus check. Here's everything we know right now.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package passed in the House of Representatives late Friday night, after hours of debate. But the early victory doesn't mean a third stimulus check is days away. In fact, this could be the first of up to three votes before the final bill is signed into law. The stimulus bill is projected to pass along party lines, using an unusual political maneuver called budget reconciliation. But a thorny debate over the $15 minimum wage hike contained in the House bill could prolong the Senate vote, and also delay the $1,400 stimulus checks by days or weeks. 

In addition to that, the third stimulus check timing to arrive during tax season could make things messy, and it doesn't help that the IRS already faces a complex new stimulus check formula and set of qualifications it has to follow. Plus, the issue of priority payment groups means some may check their checks weeks before others, especially if there's a delay of any sort (for example, if you recently moved.)

We mapped out possible dates you could expect the IRS to deliver the first wave of checks, the IRS deadline to send the last payment this time and more. Here are additional details on a "targeted" third check and every way you could get more money, less money or no new check at all. By the way, here's every important difference between the $1,400, $600 and $1,200 checks and all the money you could get for child care and older adults. This story was updated with new information.

Stimulus check: Projected timeline, why it could go out in waves

Democrats, who hold the majority in Congress (by virtue of a Vice President Kamala Harris's tie-breaking vote in the Senate), have a goalpost of March 14 to pass the final version of the $1.9 trillion stimulus bill -- this is the date federal unemployment insurance for $300 a week expires. If the Senate makes substantial changes on the COVID-19 bill and passes it with amendments, it would go back to the House for another vote. What happens if the timeline slips a week as a result? We factor that in below.

Here's what also affects stimulus delivery dates. The IRS organized the first two payment rounds according to payment groups, with direct deposit recipients the first in line, followed by people receiving physical checks and then EIP cards. Using the timeline from the second payment, we can take an educated guess as to when the IRS could start sending the first checks for each group.

Complicating matters, the IRS is also dealing with tax returns at the same -- more on that below. Keep in mind, it could take weeks for the IRS to process every group's funds, so consider the possible dates below as just a starting point. We refresh this timeline as the situation evolves.

When could the next stimulus check possibly arrive?

Stimulus check passes Congress Friday, March 12 Monday, March 22
Stimulus bill signed into law Sunday, March 14 Tuesday, March 23
First direct deposit check sent Week of March 22 Week of March 29
First paper checks sent Week of March 29 Week of April 5
First EIP cards sent Week of April 5 Week of April 12
IRS deadline to finish sending checks Dec. 31, 2021 Dec. 31, 2021
Claims for missing stimulus money open May 3 May 3

Could your stimulus payment group change? Sure can

When you get your stimulus money would likely depend on how you get it. That was largely true with the first two checks (there are always some exceptions) and is expected to play out similarly the third time around. Direct-deposit recipients typically get their stimulus money faster, as evidenced by how the government handled the first two rounds of payments in March and December. But both times there were issues involving deposits going to temporary accounts that were rejected by banks.

The IRS told CNET in January that some people who received a physical check or EIP card the first time may get paid by the other method the second time around. And, anecdotally, we've heard of people who received direct deposit payments the first time finally getting an EIP card in the mail -- and not an electronic bank transfer -- weeks after the IRS tool said the payment was issued. 

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While you won't have the final say in how you get your payment, we recommend signing up for direct deposit with the IRS when you submit your 2020 tax return, if you ordinarily file taxes. If you already have an account, make sure your details are correct. We also suggest you try to file your taxes quickly. While you can file an extension to submit your taxes later (you'd still have to pay taxes owed now) whether that will help or hurt you may get a little complicated.

The other payment groups loosely defined (by us) include Social Security beneficiaries who received payments a different way the first time if they're part of the SSI or SSDI programs, and people with more complex scenarios that could lead to potential issues or holdups receiving their money. People in different child support situations are one example we've seen, as are people who are incarcerated and people with complex citizenship scenarios.

Is this the IRS deadline to finish sending new stimulus checks?

The Jan. 15 deadline for the second stimulus check approved in December was written into the text of the bill without explanation. Anyone who didn't receive all or part of their second payment must claim it as part of the IRS' Recovery Rebate Credit on their tax return to get the funds owed -- even if they have non-filer status and aren't typically required to file taxes.

The latest proposal (PDF) would give the IRS a Dec. 31, 2021 cutoff to complete sending out the third stimulus checks. 

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How you get your second stimulus check could influence how soon your payment arrives.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Tax season could confuse stimulus checks even more

Since a third stimulus check is likely to drop in the middle of tax season (taxes are due April 15), the IRS may have to calculate your total based on the most recent tax filing it has. That would be your 2020 taxes if you file early, or 2019 taxes if the check is ready before your tax return is. This could also disqualify some people from getting a third stimulus payment. (Learn more about some of the stimulus check exceptions and catches here.)

If you're owed money, you might have to wait a year to claim it, until you file your 2021 taxes in 2022, according to the latest proposal (PDF) under consideration. Filing for a tax extension could also change your timeline in a way that could be different if the IRS were to extend the tax due date itself (we haven't heard anything more about this).

By mid-March, tens of millions of Americans may have already received their tax refunds, which could make it tricky for the IRS to straighten out problems or redact refunds after issuing. 

What can you do to get your stimulus check sooner?

There may be a few things you can do to help speed up receipt of a third payment, assuming the stimulus bill is approved. For example, signing up for direct deposit with your 2020 tax return would put you in the priority category for a third stimulus payment. 

If you've moved recently, tell the IRS and USPS. Here are our other suggestions for how people can make it more likely they'll get their checks faster. Note that there could be some changes to qualifications that may not apply to a possible third stimulus check.

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The first two stimulus checks were nominally sorted by different payment groups, and one had a clear advantage over the others.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Here's who should know extra stimulus check details

Stimulus checks aren't necessarily a one-size-fits-all situation. Here are our guides for:

Here's everything you need to know about stimulus checks, including what to do if you ran into problems with either of the first two payments.