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Stimulus check qualifications could change this time around. What to know

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A change to qualifications could bring families more money.


Angela Lang/CNET

The first stimulus check that was sent out in March was part of the COVID-19 relief bill to help assist millions of Americans in need. The $1,200 check was delivered to bank accounts and mailboxes across the country to qualifying Americans.

All of this is important as we round the bend on the next stretch of negotiations over a new stimulus package that could yield a second stimulus check. Knowing how the qualification rules work, who didn’t qualify for a first check and who might be left out of a second payment can give you an idea of what to expect.

Yes, the income limit is a huge factor in determining if you’d get the whole payment, a partial sum or none at all. But there’s also a complex mix of factors like your yearly incomeage, number of dependentschild support situationtax status and citizenship and the age of people in your household. 

By the way, millions of people who were eligible for the first stimulus check can still claim a payment, including those who didn’t get a payment for a dependent, people in the prison system and people who don’t file taxes. We’ll help you figure out what it all means for your situation. (P.S. Here’s everything in Biden’s stimulus plan for the US, including a second check.) This story was recently updated.


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All the qualifications that could change in a new bill

According to a September Gallup poll, there’s broad bipartisan support for a second round of stimulus payments, with seven in 10 Americans surveyed favoring more aid. Here’s what’s in the proposals that are still on the table:

Change definition of a dependent: The CARES Act capped eligible dependents as kids age 16 and younger. One proposal this summer expanded the definition to any dependent — child or adult — you could claim on federal taxes. That means families with older kids or older adults at home could potentially see $500 more in their check total per individual.

Read moreNobody can take your stimulus check away, right? Not quite

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If the definition of a dependent changes one way or another, your family could benefit.


Angela Lang/CNET

More money per child dependent: The most recent White House proposal would keep the definition of a child dependent, but increase the sum per individual to an extra $1,000 on the final household check. Here’s how to estimate your total stimulus money and here’s the IRS’ formula for families.

Stop seizing overdue child support: The Democrats this summer pushed to let a parent who owed child support receive a payment; the original CARES Act allowed the government to redirect payments to cover overdue support.

More clarity on people who are incarcerated: After months of back and forth, the IRS is now sending checks to those who are incarcerated and eligible for a payment. A Republican plan this summer would have excluded the payments.

Include noncitizens: The CARES Act made a Social Security number a requirement for a payment. Other proposals would have expanded the eligibility to those with an ITIN instead of a Social Security number because they are classified as a resident or nonresident alien. A Republican plan this summer would have excluded those with an ITIN.

The first income limits may apply to the second payment

Under the CARES Act, here are the income limits, based on your adjusted gross income for the previous year, that would qualify you for a stimulus check, assuming you met all the other requirements. (More below for people who don’t normally file taxes.)

  • You’re a single tax filer and earn less than $99,000
  • You file as the head of a household and earn under $146,500
  • You file jointly with a spouse and earn less than $198,000 combined

Read morePresident-elect Joe Biden has a stimulus plan for the US

Who could qualify for a second stimulus check

Qualifying group Likely to be covered by the final bill
Individuals An AGI of less than $99,000 (Same as CARES)
Head of household An AGI of less than $146,500 (Same as CARES)
Couple filing jointly An AGI less than $198,000 (Same as CARES)
Dependents of any age No limit (HEALS proposal; up to 3 in Heroes)
US citizens living abroad Yes, same as CARES
Citizens of US territories Likely, with payments handled by each territory’s tax authority (CARES)
SSDI and tax nonfilers Likely, but with an extra step to file (more below)
Uncertain status Could be set by court ruling or bill
Incarcerated people Excluded under CARES through IRS interpretation, judge overturned
Undocumented immigrants Qualifying “alien residents” are currently included under CARES
Disqualified group Unlikely to be covered by the final bill
Noncitizens who pay taxes (ITIN) Proposed in Heroes, unlikely to pass in Senate
Spouses, kids of ITIN filers Excluded under CARES, more below
People who owe child support Included in Heroes proposal, but excluded under CARES

Even if you don’t pay taxes, they’re still important to your stimulus check

For most people, taxes and stimulus checks are tightly connected. For example, the most important factor in setting income limits is adjusted gross income, or AGI, which determines how much of the $1,200 for individuals and $2,400 for married couples you could receive if you meet the other requirements.

Our stimulus check calculator can show you how much money you could potentially expect from a second check, based on your most recent tax filing. Read below for your eligibility if you don’t typically file taxes.

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How much stimulus money you could get depends on who you are.


Angela Lang/CNET

Retired or older adults: Certain exceptions and rules could apply

Many older adults, including retirees over age 65, received a first stimulus check under the CARES Act, and would likely be eligible for a second one. For older adults and retired people, factors like your tax filingsyour AGI, your pension, if you’re part of the SSDI program (more below) and whether the IRS considers you a dependent would likely affect your chances of receiving a second payment. 

If you share custody or owe child support, here’s what happens

Due to a specific rule, if you and the other parent of your child dependent alternate years claiming your child on your tax return, you may both be entitled to receive $500 more in your first stimulus check, and in the second if that rule doesn’t change.

If you owe child support, your stimulus money may be garnished for arrears (the amount you owe).

What happens if you didn’t file a federal tax return in 2018 or 2019?

People who weren’t required to file a federal income tax return in 2018 or 2019 may still be eligible to receive the first stimulus check under the CARES Act. If that guideline doesn’t change for a second stimulus check, this group would qualify again. Here are reasons you might not have been required to file:

  • You’re over 24, you’re not claimed as a dependent and your income is less than $12,200.
  • You’re married filing jointly and together your income is less than $24,400.
  • You have no income.
  • You receive federal benefits, such as Social Security or Social Security Disability Insurance. See below for more on SSDI.

With the first stimulus check, nonfilers needed to provide the IRS with some information before they could receive their payment. (If you still haven’t received a first check even though you were eligible, the IRS has extended its deadline to use its Non-Filers tool through Nov. 21.) The IRS is also reaching out to 9 million Americans who may fall into this category but who haven’t requested their payment.

Are you still eligible for a stimulus payment if you receive SSI or SSDI?

Those who are part of the SSI or SSDI program also qualify for a check under the CARES Act. Recipients wouldn’t receive their payments via their Direct Express card, which the government typically uses to distribute federal benefits, but through a non-Direct Express bank account or as a paper check. SSDI recipients also need to use the IRS’ Non-Filers tool to request a payment for themselves and dependents.

For more, here’s what we know about the major proposals for a second stimulus package. We also have information on unemployment insurance, what you can do if you’ve lost your job, if you could receive two refund checks from the IRS and what to know about evictions.

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