10 stimulus payment facts and debunked myths to know about your first and second checks


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The election results are in, but the future of a second stimulus check is still uncertain.


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The Senate is on break until after Thanksgiving, so talks on the next economic relief package, which could include a second check, are on hold until the start of December at the earliest. Congress has also turned its attention to 2021 federal budget negotiations, with the Dec. 11 deadline looming and a potential government shutdown otherwise. On the bright side, stimulus aid could be worked on with the budget, as stimulus-bill negotiators may work in tandem with lawmakers building the budget, CNBC reported.

If Congress doesn’t pass more economic aid this year, however, President-elect Joe Biden has a stimulus plan that includes a second stimulus check of up to $1,200 for qualifying Americans, but it can’t be voted on until after Inauguration Day on Jan. 20.

The process of sending out and receiving stimulus checks is complicated. Until we have a bill spelled out in black and white, there’s still much we don’t know — including the exact date another payment could come your way (we have guesses), which qualifications could change and who wouldn’t be eligible for another round. For now, there’s also a lot we can infer based on the terms of the first stimulus check and the various proposals that’ve been floated in Washington, including Biden’s plan.

Here’s what’s true and false about stimulus checks. And here’s every remaining benefit that disappears if no bill is passed before 2021.


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Some people won’t be eligible for a second stimulus payment

With the first round of checks, Congress set income limits based on your adjusted gross income that were one line separating who did and didn’t qualify for a stimulus check. But it’s just the beginning. Your status as a dependent or adult, your citizenship and more also helped decide if you got all or some of the first check — and those things will likely also affect the second. Read more about stimulus payment qualifications here.

The IRS still owes millions of people all or part of their first stimulus checks

Guess what? The IRS might still might still owe you money from the first stimulus check. It may be that some money was left out for child dependents, or that an interpretation of a rule changed (this really happened), that you fell through the cracks with your personal situation, that you didn’t think you qualified but you actually do and need to take an extra step or that some other error kept you from getting the total amount you were entitled to. The Nov. 21 to file your claim has passed; now, you’ll need to wait until tax season in 2021 to register for a payment from the IRS.

The second check might not be the same amount as the first check

If the eligibility requirements change with the second check, you and your family could find yourself with more money in your payment, or less. For example, a new rule could potentially get you a bigger sum. But there may also be changes to your life circumstances — such as a birth or death, starting a new job or becoming unemployed — that might also play a role in a different check amount. Here’s how you can calculate your estimate, and here’s how the IRS determines how much money you get.

You don’t have to file taxes to get a stimulus check

While taxes and stimulus checks are tied together, you don’t need to have filed a tax return to qualify for a check. If you’re over age 65, for example, and receive Supplemental Security Income or Social Security Disability Insurance, you could still qualify for a stimulus check under the CARES Act. You might need to take an extra step to request your payment (you have until Nov. 21 for the first batch) in order to get your check.

You can usually keep the money, but there are exceptions

In most cases, your check is yours to spend or save how you want. But there are a few situations where the federal government or a debt collector can take all or part of your check to cover a debt, such as if you owe child support.

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You still have a few weeks to claim a stimulus check this year.


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The IRS uses a formula for stimulus payment calculations

Figuring out what your payment could end up being is not straightforward. The IRS used a formula to determine how much stimulus money you got for the first check, and something similar for a second payment would determine whether you receive the full amount, a partial payment or far more than $1,200 if you have kids.

It also explains how you might still be able to get some stimulus money even if your family’s yearly income exceeds the limit set out by the CARES Act in March. The calculation starts with your household’s total adjusted gross income, adds on the money allotted to qualifying dependents and then deducts from the total based on your income bracket (as defined by the CARES Act). 

Stimulus money won’t be taxed in 2021

The IRS doesn’t consider stimulus money to be income. That means a payment you get this year won’t reduce your refund in 2021 or increase the amount you owe when you file your 2020 tax return. You also won’t have to repay part of your stimulus check if you qualify for a lower amount in 2021. The IRS said if you didn’t receive everything you were owed this year, you can claim it as a credit on your 2020 federal income tax return by filing in 2021.

The IRS issues checks by priority groups: Know yours

Eligible Americans got the first stimulus payment at different times, often because of the way they got paid, and a second payment would be similar. For example, people who have set up direct deposit — an electronic transfer of funds into their bank account — with the IRS could get their checks weeks before those who receive a paper check or prepaid EIP card in the mail. We identified five priority groups based on the first stimulus checks. 

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You might have waited for a while for your first check to come in the mail.


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The next check may not be as delayed as the first

With the first check, the IRS learned how to mobilize and deliver stimulus money, and worked out many of the difficulties in the process. If a second check is approved, it’s likely the agency could speed up the process of sending out the first set of payments. The tracking tool is already up and running, the system is in place and it’s probable that the majority of people who qualified for a first check would also receive another. 

The timeline is constantly changing, but we’ve mapped out potential dates a check could be sent if approved before — or after — the Jan. 20 inauguration.

Rules and exceptions for eligibility requirements

If a second stimulus check is approved, there will be lots of small details, rules and exceptions that may be confusing. While some situations will be easy to understand, others concerning you and your dependents might make it unclear if you’re eligible and how much money you might receive — there are many fringe cases.

For example:

Certain issues could delay your check, such as if you recently moved.

For more information about stimulus payments, here’s what’s happening with stimulus negotiations right now, what President-elect Joe Biden plans for a stimulus bill and what federal benefits expire at the end of the year.



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