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Tax time starts Friday. What's your AGI and what does it have to do with stimulus checks, too?

Understanding your adjusted gross income and what it has to do with all of your stimulus checks is key. Here's how to calculate your AGI based on your tax filings.

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Your AGI is crucial to your stimulus check. We'll show you where to find it on your taxes.

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Tax season starts on Friday, when the IRS officially begins processing returns. This year is particularly important, as your tax returns will play a critical role in claiming any missing stimulus money the IRS owes you from the first and second stimulus checks -- and will potentially affect your third stimulus payment, if and when Congress approves one. This is true both for those who file taxes every year, and those who don't usually have to file

The key to understanding your tax filings and your past and future stimulus check totals is your adjusted gross income, or AGI. Here, we'll help you figure out what your AGI is, how to find it and how it helps determine how much you might owe or be owed in taxes, and how much you're eligible to receive with the child tax credit. We also break down how your AGI figures into your stimulus payments, including a possible third check. You may want to keep other details in mind too, such as what happens if you receive SSI or SSDI, or if you're a nonfiler

CNET also has guides for what happens to your stimulus payment if you're an older adult, if you have dependents, if you're a young adult or if you pay or receive child support. If your first or second check has not arrived, you will likely have to claim it as a Recovery Rebate Credit on your taxes this year, or, in certain cases, contact the IRS to track down your missing money

What is my AGI, and what does it mean for my stimulus checks?

Your AGI, or adjusted gross income, is the amount calculated from your total income the IRS uses to determine how much the government can tax you. Your gross income is the sum of all the money you earn in a year, including wages, dividends, alimony, capital gains, interest income, royalties, rental income and retirement distributions. 

After you subtract allowable deductions from your gross income (such as student loan interest, alimony payments or retirement contributions), the result is your AGI, or taxable income, which is used to calculate your income tax. Your AGI is reported on IRS tax form 1040, which you can find on line 11 on this year's form.

Since it's a rough estimate of how much money you're bringing in after deductions from all your streams of income, the IRS used your AGI to calculate how much of the first stimulus check of up to $1,200 you could get, as well as how much of the second stimulus check of up to $600 you could get.

Congress is currently considering President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion stimulus proposal, which includes a $1,400 payment for the third stimulus check, so knowing the IRS' calculation formula can help there as well. It's possible that the formula will change this time around, however, which could bring in more or less money for your family with a third check. The answer depends largely on how a debate over making the next round of checks more "targeted" turns out.

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How can my AGI help me figure out how much money I could get in a stimulus check?

A third stimulus check could bring $1,400 per qualified person, but change crucial eligibility rules that help determine how much your family gets, that is, when a final bill is passed. Your AGI, however, will still likely be the determining factor for how much the IRS will owe you, along with your filing status (single versus joint) and how many dependents you have

This was the case for the first and second checks as well. You can check out our story on how to calculate how much money you should get from a second stimulus check for some examples of how it will break down for you, depending on your situation. For that round of payments, as long as you met the other stimulus check qualifications, single taxpayers with a Social Security number and an AGI under $75,000 received the full amount of $600. As your AGI went up, the amount you were eligible for decreased. If your AGI was $87,000 or above, as a single taxpayer you were no longer be eligible for the stimulus check (this is down from a $99,000 cutoff for the first check). 

For the third round of payments, Congress is currently debating whether or not it will change the income limits by making a third check more "targeted" to families below a certain threshold, but again, we won't know for sure until a bill is approved.

How could my AGI change on my 2020 taxes, and how could that affect a third stimulus check?

Since your AGI is calculated from all your sources of income for the year, it can fluctuate based on a wide range of factors, including if you got a raise or lost a job; if you sold a house, got a bonus or received an inheritance; or if you lost or gained money in the stock market. 

It isn't yet clear if your income eligibility for a third stimulus check would be based on your 2019 taxes (as with the second check) or on your 2019 or 2020 taxes, whichever was most recently filed. The IRS used the most recently filed tax return to distribute the first stimulus check (either 2018 or 2019), so there's a precedent there.

How can I find my AGI if I filed my taxes in 2019?

If you filed your 2019 federal tax return, pull out your printed records or PDF. If you used tax-filing software like TurboTax or H&R Block, you should be able to log in to those accounts to find a copy of your return. 

You'll find your AGI on line 8b of the 2019 1040 federal tax form. 

How can I figure out my AGI if I did not file taxes in 2019?

If you didn't file federal taxes in 2019, you can find your AGI on your 2018 federal tax return. On the 2018 1040 federal tax form, it's on line 7. It's on line 11 on the 2020 form.

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An IRS 1040 Individual Income Tax form for the 2018 tax year. You'll find your AGI on line 7.

Daniel Acker/Bloomberg/Getty Images

What if I can't find my federal tax return?

If you just can't find your tax return, you can find your AGI in two ways:

Method 1: Go to the IRS' Get Transcript portal and choose Get Transcript Online. You'll need your Social Security number, date of birth, filing status and mailing address from your latest tax return. You'll also need access to your email; your personal account number from a credit card, mortgage, home equity loan, home equity line of credit or car loan; and a mobile phone with your name on the account. Once your identity is verified, select the Tax Return Transcript and use only the Adjusted Gross Income line entry. You'll be able to view or print your information here. 

Method 2: If you don't have internet access or the necessary identity verification documents, you can use the Get Transcript portal and choose Get Transcript by Mail, or call 1-800-908-9946 to request a Tax Return Transcript. It takes about five to 10 days to be delivered to you. 

Does my AGI impact my dependents?

If your AGI makes you eligible for a stimulus check and you claim dependents on your taxes, your first stimulus check should have included up to $500 per qualified dependent, and your second stimulus check should have included up to $600 per qualified dependent, since they were unable to claim a stimulus check for themselves. There was no cap on the number of dependents you could claim under 17 years old. 

The third stimulus check could change the rules, with Biden's proposal expanding the definition of a dependent for stimulus checks to include those over age 16, as well as older adult relatives. The proposal also allocates up to $1,400 per dependent, added on to the household's total. 

For more information, find out the most important stimulus check facts to know now and what's happening with a third stimulus check so far