Every way your second stimulus check payment could shrink – CNET

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Angela Lang/CNET

The second stimulus check is happening. In fact, people have already started receiving their next round of stimulus money — here’s how to calculate how much you’ll get, and what to know about tracking your payment. A last-minute bid in the Senate to raise the ceiling to $2,000 per person failed, which means that for those who meet the qualifications for a second stimulus check, the maximum amount is $600 a head.

That figure already stands to drop the total amount of money per household, but the effect on your second payment is more nuanced than that. It turns out that lowering the upper limit to $600 could disqualify you from a second payment altogether. 

We’ll explain everything you need to know about what could contribute to a smaller stimulus check. (Here’s more information about direct depositEIP cardspaper checks in the mail and a third stimulus check.) This story has been updated with the latest details.

$600 doesn’t just lower the total check, it reduces the number of people who could get it

The second stimulus check allocates qualified adults and their child dependents $600 apiece to go toward the household total. That new rate alone would automatically give most households a smaller check than before. But that’s only if you get the full $600 amount. Turns out there’s more to it than that. 

The stimulus legislation includes a formula that institutes a sliding scale so that, for example, single taxpayers would get the full $600 if they make less than $75,000 per year. But if they make more than that, they’d receive only a partial payment that gets progressively smaller the more money they make per year, according to their adjusted gross income, until they reach an upper threshold. After hitting the threshold they wouldn’t qualify for a stimulus check at all.

That upper limit is now lower than before, which means fewer people will be eligible to receive even a partial check. The chart below helps illustrate this. Note that it doesn’t account for variables like the number of children you have, so use our second stimulus check calculator instead to get a personal estimate.

$600 second stimulus check income limits

AGI to receive full amount AGI to phase out of payment Down from
Single tax filer Under $75,000 $87,000 $99,000
Head of a household Under $112,500 $124,500 $146,000
Married, filing jointly Under $150,00 $174,000 $198,000

You made more money in 2019 than in 2018

Your adjusted gross income, or AGI, is a term normally used on the annual federal tax return to describe your total income, including assets (like stock sales, credits and deductions or an inheritance) that fall outside your usual paycheck. You didn’t get the first stimulus check if your AGI went above a certain income limit, and that’s an even lower number with the $600 second stimulus check.

The first stimulus check was based on your 2018 or 2019 taxes, if you had filed them. But the second check is based solely on your 2019 taxes. That means if you got a new job or earned more money between 2018 and 2019 (congratulations), you may race toward the upper limit faster, and receive only a partial check. However, any child dependents you have could still contribute to the total sum. Again, our second stimulus check calculator can help work out the estimate

Here’s more about the relationship between your tax status and any possible stimulus check.


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You now have fewer dependents than you did before

Age is an important factor in how much stimulus money a household gets, but maybe not the way you think. Older adults are in many cases entitled to their own stimulus check. In the first round of direct payments, households were given an extra $500 for each “child dependent.” This is defined as a legal minor who is 16 years old or younger. 

Interestingly, the IRS definition of a child dependent for your taxes (23 or under, and financially reliant on the tax filer) isn’t the same one used for stimulus checks. 

After some back and forth, the rules for the $900 billion stimulus bill keeps the same definition of child dependent, but raises the amount to $600 per 16 year old and younger. If one of your children is now 17, or no longer in your custody (read here for joint custody), then your check would exclude that amount.

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Kids grow up, and you could be out $600 per child.


Sarah Tew/CNET

A calculation error could yield a smaller check at first

It happened with the first check and could easily happen with the next. Clerical errors and complex rules might result in your household getting less money in a future second stimulus check than you might be entitled to — for you and your dependents. Or maybe you don’t normally need to file taxes and wind up missing a rare extra step you need to take. 

Whatever the reason, if some issue prevents you from receiving all or part of your stimulus money, you will be able to claim a Recovery Rebate Credit during tax season 2021.

Did a member of your household recently die?

Our condolences. If your household receives a stimulus check that includes a spouse or child dependent who died between your last tax filing and the receipt of the second stimulus check, the IRS is likely to send a smaller sum if your tax filing status, deductions, credits or AGI changed. In some cases, the IRS has asked for the payment to be returned

However, if your spouse died in 2020, the $900 billion stimulus bill will allow you to claim a check under the terms “head of household;” that is, is you could receive the full amount if you make under $112,500.

For more information about stimulus money, here are top facts you need to know about stimulus checks.

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