Stimulus check: Income limit, eligibility, fine print and how the first payment might affect the next

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Everything you need to know about stimulus checks, right here.

Angela Lang/CNET

second direct payment of up to $1,200 for eligible Americans still has bipartisan support, but the process has crawled along as talks for a new economic relief package are at a standstill. With the Senate on recess until after Labor Day but the House returning this week, Washington leaders are hearing increasing urgent calls to return to the debate. But the Democratic National Convention starts Monday (here’s how to watch the DNC keynotes) and the Republican National Convention begins a week later, complicating the timeline.

If a final bill is passed into law, the first stimulus payment can offer some clues as to when you could get a second stimulus check. The Republican-fronted HEALS Act used the original CARES Act guidelines to structure a new direct payment. That means a final deal could be structured in the same way, but the money might actually go out faster than last time.

Try using the IRS’ free tracker to find out what happened to your first stimulus payment, if you still haven’t gotten it — you can also file a missing payment report if you think it was actually stolen or lost in the mail. Below, we detail all that we know right now about the original stimulus payment as well as the next potential round. This story is updated frequently.

Will you be taxed on your stimulus check? What are your rights?

These rules apply to the first stimulus check signed in March and could serve as a model for the second check, if it passes.

The payment is not taxable: You won’t pay taxes next year on a stimulus payment you receive from the IRS in 2020. The IRS doesn’t consider it income and a payment you get in 2020 will not reduce your refund or increase the amount you owe when you file your 2020 tax return next year. You also won’t have to repay anything if you qualify for a lower amount in 2021.

Overdue debts: Under some circumstances with the first stimulus payment, banks and private creditors could seize your payment for outstanding debts. The current proposals would in most cases prohibit creditors and banks from seizing the payment to pay debts. Likewise, you are not required to hand the check over to facilities, like nursing homes and landlords, to cover expenses.

Overdue child support: With both the CARES and the proposed HEALS Acts, you would not receive a check if you owed child support. Under the House of Representatives’ Heroes Act, which the Senate did not take up or veto, you would be eligible for a payment if you owed support.

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In some cases, payments do need to be returned: The IRS said someone who died before receipt of the payment, a nonresident alien or someone who is incarcerated do not qualify for a check. These payments need to be returned if received, the IRS said.

A payment does not affect other government benefits: Your stimulus check will also not count toward determining any other benefits you receive from the federal government.

Spend it just like cash: Once you receive your stimulus money, you can use it just like cash. If you receive your payment on a prepaid debit card, you can transfer the amount to your own account.

How will you get your payment, direct deposit or in the mail?

A little over 75 percent of the first round of stimulus payments went out as direct deposits to bank accounts, the IRS reported. Of the 159 million payments made by June, 120 million were sent by direct deposit, 35 million by check and 4 million were made in the form of a prepaid debit card.

If you already have direct deposit set up with the government to receive your tax returns or other benefits, the IRS will use that information to send your check. A big advantage to using direct deposit is that you could be the first to receive your payment. The first round of checks in April went to those who had it already had banking information on file with the IRS.

How will you know when your stimulus check is coming?

For the first round of checks, the IRS built the Get My Payment online service that let you set up direct deposit for your payment and check the status of your check and see if anything is holding it up.

The rollout of the tracking tool was a bit bumpy, but the IRS ironed out many of the early issues and it should be ready to go if Congress approved a second round of stimulus payments. As a kind of life hack, the US Postal Service also has a free service that can notify you when your check will arrive in the mail. You’ll need to sign up for it. 

When will the checks be completely paid out?

After the IRS sent checks to those it had mailing or banking info for, it turned its attention to those people it was lacking banking or mailing information for. The agency set up the Non-Filers tool to help those people give the IRS enough information to process the last patch of checks. Those still waiting for a payment have till Oct. 15, the IRS said, to provide the agency with the necessary information to receive a check this year.

You may meet the requirements for a payment from the federal government as part of the 2020 stimulus package.

James Martin/CNET

How to use the Economic Impact Payment prepaid debit card, if you received one

Along with paper checks and electronic payments, the US Treasury sent 4 million prepaid debit cards called EIP cards. The Treasury said it was sending these cards instead of paper checks to some eligible US residents for whom the government doesn’t have banking information. The Treasury said you can use the card to make purchases, get cash from in-network ATMs and transfer funds to your personal bank account without a fee. You can also use the card at stores that accept Visa debit cards. Once you receive your EIP card in the mail, head to the EIP card page to set it up.

The debit cards came in plain envelopes and there have been reports that people may have mistakenly thrown their cards away, not recognizing the letter contained their stimulus payment. The government can help you recover your card if you’ve lost or thrown it away. So far, there’s no word on whether the Treasury would use debit cards for the second round of checks.

Here’s what we know about tracking your stimulus payment. If you’ve moved since the last time you filed your taxes, here’s where you can update your address with the IRS.

$20 bill in the slot of a piggy bank

Every little bit helps.

Angela Lang/CNET

How much stimulus money you get depends on your taxes

For the first round of payments, the total amount of your stimulus check is based on your adjusted gross income, or AGI, from your 2019 federal tax filing or, if you haven’t filed this year, your 2018 filing.

Both Democrat and Republican proposals are looking at a similar model for the new payments.

If you filed your 2019 federal tax return, you can find that figure on line 8b of the 2019 1040 federal tax form. It’s line 7 on the 2018 1040 tax form.

Who’s eligible for the first stimulus payment and maybe the second?

Under the CARES Act, the amount you’ll receive will depend on your total income in 2019 or 2018. If you qualify, you’ll receive one payment. Congress is looking at following similar guidelines with the next round of payments.

Here’s who qualifies for the first round:

  • If you’re a single US resident and have an adjusted gross income less than $99,000
  • If you file as the head of a household and earn under $146,500
  • If you file jointly without children and earn less than $198,000

Read on for how your payment is calculated and how much you can expect. You can also look at this calculator from the Washington Post.


Your stimulus check could arrive in the mail or through direct deposit.

Sarah Tew/CNET

How much you get as a single taxpayer under the CARES Act

A single US resident must have a Social Security number and an AGI under $75,000 to receive the full amount of $1,200. The sum decreases as your AGI goes up. If your adjusted gross income reaches $99,000, you won’t be eligible for the stimulus. 

How much as a head of household

If you file as head of a household, you will get the full $1,200 payment if your AGI is $112,500 or less, with the amount decreasing until you reach $146,500.

How much for couples filing jointly

Married couples filing jointly without children with an adjusted gross income below $150,000 will get a $2,400 payment, decreasing to zero at $198,000.

How much for children and dependents

One sticking point with the CARES Act was who qualified as a dependent. With the first round, for each child aged 16 or younger in the family, parents received payment of $500. That excluded children over 16 and adults that were claimed as dependents. With the current proposals, the cutoff wouldn’t be 16 years or younger to qualify for a check.


Tax day has officially passed, but there’s an advantage to filing sooner than later if you got an extension.

Angela Lang/CNET

If you still haven’t filed federal taxes, do that now

While the filing deadline was July 15, the IRS said if you haven’t filed your 2018 or 2019 federal taxes, that could affect your stimulus check. Be sure to include direct-deposit banking information on the return — that could help you get your money faster for a second stimulus check.

If you’re not typically required to file a tax return, you could still receive a payment

Many who normally are not required to file a tax return — including senior citizens, Social Security and Social Security Disability Insurance recipients and railroad retirees — will not need to file a simple tax return to receive the payment, the IRS said.

The IRS said recipients of Supplemental Security Income will automatically receive the full $1,200 economic impact payment, with no action needed on their part.

Others, including those who haven’t filed a 2018 or 2019 return because they’re under the normal income limits for filing a tax return, can use the Non-Filers portal to get their payment. To get started, go to the IRS’ Non-Filers: Enter Payment Info Here site and tap the Non-Filers: Enter Payment Info Here button. As part of the process, you’ll enter personal information and, if you want to receive your stimulus check by direct deposit, banking information.

The IRS said anyone who registers with the nonfilers tool by Oct. 15 will receive the payment by the end of 2020.

What about Social Security recipients?

The Treasury Department said that Social Security beneficiaries who are not typically required to file tax returns will not need to file an abbreviated tax return to receive a payment. Instead, the IRS will use the information on Form SSA-1099 for Social Security beneficiaries who did not file tax returns in 2018 or 2019.

The IRS said automatic payments should already be arriving for recipients of Social Security, survivors or disability insurance benefits and Railroad Retirement benefits.4


Among other things, the stimulus checks aim to make it easier to put food on the table.

Sarah Tew/CNET

What about those who receive federal benefits and have children?

  • The IRS said those who receive federal benefits, have dependent children and weren’t required to file a tax return in 2018 or 2019 needed to act by late April or early May to receive a full payment this year.
  • If you didn’t submit this information by the due date, the IRS will give you $1,200 this year and the additional $500 per eligible child with your return filing for tax year 2020 — roughly a year from now.
  • SSI and VA beneficiaries had until May 5 to update the IRS.
  • The update deadline for people who receive Social Security, survivor or disability, or Railroad Retirement benefits was April 22. The IRS said recipients in those groups have been scheduled to receive checks.
  • For more on how to use the Non-Filers tool, see the section above titled “If you’re not typically required to file a tax return…” to learn more.

The deadline has passed to set up direct deposit to have the check sent to your bank account

If you don’t have direct deposit to your bank account set up, the deadline to provide your banking details in the IRS Get My Payment portal was May 13. Those who had previously provided the IRS with their banking info can still receive their payment through direct deposit. And you can still use the Get My Payment portal to check the status of your payment.

To avoid scams, the IRS cautions you not to provide your direct deposit or other banking information to others who offer to help you set up an electronic transfer.

Do you need to sign up, apply or request your check?

For most, the federal government will automatically send your check to you electronically or in the mail, if you qualify. If you haven’t filed a tax return for 2018 or 2019, the IRS said you may need to file one to receive a payment. Scroll up to the section beginning “If you’re typically not required to file a tax return” for details on who is required to file and how.

What to do if you don’t receive your check

Here are guidelines on how to contact the IRS to report your missing stimulus check, including the warning signs to watch for that warrant picking up the phone and reaching out.

If you qualify for a payment, the IRS plans to mail a letter about your payment to your last known address within 15 days after it sends the money. The IRS said the letter will provide information on how the IRS made the payment and how to report not receiving the payment if you don’t get it. Several CNET readers, however, had reported with the first check that the letter doesn’t include clear instructions for what to do if you don’t receive the payment. We’ve asked the IRS for clarification.

The IRS added 3,500 telephone representatives in May to help with potential problems regarding payments. The representatives won’t be able to help with problems specific to your payment, however. CNET readers reported being able to get through to the service and receiving help.

We have tips for how best to use your stimulus check and how to avoid being scammed. If you need more help, here’s how to get financial relief.

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