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When will the IRS send new stimulus checks? We have a clearer idea now that Senate passed the bill

Your personal timeline to receive the $1,400 stimulus check hinges on more than just when the stimulus bill will become law. Here's everything that could affect the arrival of your payment.

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Stimulus checks are getting closer, but you still want to know when yours will arrive in your hands.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The third stimulus check will start to arrive in March, President Joe Biden said Saturday, after the Senate passed the COVID-19 relief stimulus bill. But the arrival date isn't that simple -- you want to know when your check will come, not everyone else's, and that depends on several factors. For example, we're still days away from the new $1,400 payments becoming law, and the IRS is in the middle of processing tens of millions of tax returns.

There's also the question of which stimulus payment priority group you're in -- that could push back your check by weeks, and despite your best efforts, you may not get a choice if your stimulus payment arrives in the first wave or one of the last. Some people may also find they have to wait months to receive all their stimulus money, if any problems arise, including from the 2019/2020 tax confusion. 

We'll explain more below. But first, it's important to know that the third stimulus payment reduces the upper income limit once again, which changes the equation to determine how much money you could receive and means fewer people will be eligible to get more stimulus money than originally thought. Here's who may not qualify for a check. Meanwhile, here are major differences 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.

Update: Possible dates your stimulus check could arrive

The date the IRS begins sending the very first payment may not square up with the date you receive your stimulus money in your bank account or in the mail. And that's even in the best case scenario. Remember, it takes time for the IRS to process the well over 100 million payments expected in this third round of checks, and tiny errors could cause a delay in you receiving your full or partial payment.

If the bill becomes law by March 14 -- the Democrats' self-imposed deadline -- it's almost guaranteed that the first wave of payments will begin to go out before April 1. Direct deposit recipients would be the first to receive a check, followed by staggered start dates for physical checks and EIP cards

But that's only for the dates the IRS will begin to send checks. It could take weeks for the IRS to process every group's funds, and more time for the transactions to go through, especially if you're issued a paper check or EIP card. Any additional complication could delay your payment. The schedule below reflects our best guesses, based on the IRS' timeline for the $600 stimulus check.

Next stimulus check: Potential delivery dates

Stimulus check passes Congress Tuesday, March 9 Tuesday, March 9
Stimulus bill signed into law Wednesday, March 10 Saturday, March 13
First direct deposit check sent Week of March 17 Week of March 22
First paper checks sent Week of March 24 Week of March 29
First EIP cards sent Week of March 31 Week of April 5
IRS deadline to finish sending checks Dec. 31, 2021 Dec. 31, 2021
Claims for missing stimulus money open Likely 2022 Likely 2022

What are the 3 main payment group priorities?

What we learned from the first two checks is that how you get your stimulus money often dictates when you get it. 

  • Direct-deposit recipients: Typically got their stimulus money in the first wave. But both times there were issues involving deposits going to temporary accounts that were rejected by banks. In some cases, these people got paper checks or EIP cards instead, or had to wait for the issue to resolve.
  • Paper checks: This is the payment type the IRS sent out second. This method can take weeks to arrive by mail, but the check can be deposited or cashed right away.
  • EIP cards: This payment type arrives as a prepaid debit card you must activate online to use. The IRS issued EIP cards last, delaying receipt for this recipient group by weeks.

Why could your payment group change?

Yes. With the second stimulus checks, the IRS told CNET in January that some people who received a physical check or EIP card the first time may have been paid by the other method the second time around. And, anecdotally, we learned 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.

What's the IRS cutoff date for sending the third 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 nonfiler status and aren't typically required to file taxes.

The latest Senate form of the bill (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

How could tax season slow stimulus check delivery dates?

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. 

Tips that might help you get a stimulus check faster

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

Additional stimulus check details these groups should know

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.