New stimulus check drama: Payment amount, who could qualify, when it could happen

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America’s third stimulus check could shake up the rules even more.

Sarah Tew/CNET

After nine months agonizing over the exact scope and size of the second stimulus payment, the path to third stimulus check seemed promisingly simple. President Joe Biden announced his proposal for a $1.9 trillion stimulus package that includes a $1,400 third stimulus check. Together, that could deliver a combined $2,000 maximum per person (when you add the second and third checks together). It would also expand stimulus qualifications to include families with mixed-status citizenship and dependents of any age.

But a proposal is just that, and Biden doesn’t write or approve new laws. Congress does. And a Monday call from bipartisan lawmakers seeking to ratchet down the eligibility of a new payment, to make it more targeted to groups of people, The New York Times reported. That, along with when a new stimulus check proposal arrives and even how it’s passed, are part of the drama unfolding in Washington as Biden’s pre-inauguration plan comes closer to reality.

We’ll look at the most recent intel over how much money households can expect, when the third check could come and — also importantly — how those stimulus funds would be delivered. Tax season adds an extra wrinkle, since the IRS orchestrates both stimulus check allotments and tax refunds and returns. Here’s what we know so far about a third stimulus check, including how you can set yourself up during tax season to potentially get the new funds faster.

Why do some lawmakers want the stimulus check to be more targeted? What does that mean?

The simple explanation is that some people are concerned that a stimulus check for $1,400 will go out to a proportion of people at relatively high income levels. For example, using our stimulus calculator for the third check, a person could make $102,900 per year (their adjusted gross income) and still get a partial payment… of $5. 

The point is that if lawmakers want people who make below $75,000 per year to get $1,400, there are going to have to be adjustments to how things are done. One way would be to change the stimulus check formula that was used in the first two checks. Another would be to present an arbitrary cutoff (e.g.; a check would only go out to people who make under a certain amount per year, as per their AGI). A third could be to lower the maximum amount of the next stimulus payment (because, math). Our stimulus check article explains more.

If the check is for $1,400, could some get $2,000?

Biden’s stimulus plan calls for the next check to max out at $1,400 per eligible adult — not the $2,000 some originally expected. The idea is that this third check “raises” the $600 maximum set out in the second stimulus check to $2,000, once you combine the per-person payment totals — but without factoring in dependents.

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We can’t say for certain why Biden chose $1,400 as the maximum instead of $2,000, but there’s been opposition to a $2,000 stimulus payment (more below). If Biden is trying to keep the proposal below $2 trillion, a larger stimulus check could push his $1.9 trillion stimulus bill proposal over the threshold.

One question on people’s minds is whether, if the qualifications were extended to new groups of people who weren’t included in the first round, the new recipients could get the entire $2,000 sum.

How would other stimulus check qualifications be different?

Biden proposes two changes that have been popular among Democratic lawmakers. The first would expand qualifications to dependents of any age, including 13.5 million more people, according to the People’s Policy Project, like college students, older adult relatives and children of all ages with disabilities.

The second change to eligibility would include all “mixed-status households” with one or more family members who aren’t US citizens. For example, if the parents aren’t US citizens, but their children, who were born in the US, are. The second stimulus checks expanded eligibility to families with one US citizen spouse.

Could Congress vote on a new stimulus check the week of Feb. 1?

The House of Representatives won’t be in session again until Feb. 1, but the plan is to bring a bill to the floor shortly after.

“We will be doing our committee work all next week so that we are completely ready to go to the floor when we come back,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday in a press conference.

It isn’t clear if this will be a sweeping stimulus package as suggested by Biden, or a smaller, piecemeal bill that focuses on a third stimulus check and COVID-19 vaccine distribution

How soon could the IRS send the checks? Would there be another deadline?

The IRS and Department of the Treasury set a blistering pace to deliver the second stimulus checks, starting within days of Trump signing December’s stimulus bill. They had to. The language of the bill provided only a 17-day window to send the checks before the imposed deadline. There were millions of direct deposit errors, and now anyone missing stimulus money will have to claim it as part of filing 2020 taxes. (Yes, even tax non-filers, too.)

It’s too soon to say if the IRS would automatically send a third check to recipients as they have done with the second stimulus checks, or if the money would be wrapped up into a Recovery Rebate Credit. or something like it. We walk through more possible scenarios for the third stimulus check timeline here.


How much money could a third stimulus check really bring your household? We’ll soon see.

Sarah Tew/CNET

What are the biggest hurdles facing a third stimulus check?

There’s already pushback from Democrats in more ways than one. With the Senate evenly split, opposition from just one Democratic senator could sink the party’s hopes for a large third stimulus check.

“$2,000 means $2,000. $2,000 does not mean $1,400,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat, said Jan. 14 to The Washington Post, referring to Biden’s earlier and repeated commitment to a $2,000 stimulus check.

On the other end of the spectrum, Sen. Joe Manchin, a centrist Democrat from West Virginia, expressed concern multiple times about the cost of a third stimulus check and suggested the financial aid could be better focused on those most in need of the money.

“How is the money that we invest now going to help us best to get jobs back and get people employed? And I can’t tell you that sending another check out is gonna do that to a person that’s already got a check,” Manchin said Jan. 8, later reportedly indicating he was “open” to hearing Biden’s case for a larger stimulus check, but prioritizes vaccine distribution

Many Republicans are expected to object to a new, high-priced stimulus package, especially one that more than double the size of the $600 stimulus check. With a newly Democrat-led Senate, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is counting on pushing the legislation through, especially with Vice President Kamala Harris set to act as a tiebreaker in the Senate.

How many ways could a $1,400 check could bring more money to families?

A larger maximum total per person is the obvious way your household would see more money from a third check than from the second, but there’s more to it than that. Since the upper limit for the second check is $600 per adult, with an extra $600 per child dependent, the way the IRS’ formula works out, more people hit the upper income limit for receiving a second payment, which means they won’t actually qualify to get any stimulus money at all.

A third stimulus check could:

Here are other ways a third stimulus check could put more money in your pocket.

For more information, here’s other funding that could be in the next stimulus package, how to calculate your second stimulus check payment and who may not qualify for a stimulus check.

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