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Stimulus Checks: What You Need to Know

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On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. The United States swiftly responded. Individual states put a series of lockdowns in place to slow the spread, and as unemployment climbed, the federal government sprang into action. It passed relief bills that included an Economic Impact Payment -- better known as a coronavirus stimulus check.

Following the first stimulus payment, demand grew for more direct relief to American families as the pandemic raged on. In December 2020, the U.S. government again took action to provide a second stimulus check.

However, many on the left felt the second check was insufficient, leading numerous Democrats to campaign on providing additional stimulus funds. Voters delivered Democrats control of the White House, the U.S. House of Representatives, and the U.S. Senate.

As a result, shortly after taking office, President Joe Biden signed a bill authorizing a third stimulus check. The American Rescue Plan Act was signed into law on March 11, 2021. The legislation passed on a partisan basis with no Republican support. It's widely expected to be the last direct payment Americans receive.

Here's what you need to know about these direct payments, including who is eligible, how much money was available in the stimulus checks, and how to check the status of your payment.

What is a stimulus check?

Stimulus checks are direct payments to American families that the U.S. government provided in response to COVID-19. Three stimulus checks have been paid out during the pandemic:

  • The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) authorized the first check. It provided up to $1,200 per eligible adult and $500 per eligible dependent child.
  • An additional stimulus check was authorized in December of 2020, providing up to $600 per eligible adult and dependent child.
  • A third stimulus check of up to $1,400 per adult and dependent was made available by the American Rescue Plan Act on March 11, 2021.

Who gets a stimulus check?

Stimulus checks are available to eligible U.S. individuals with Social Security numbers. However, eligibility rules vary depending on the checks.

For the first two payments, anyone claimed as a dependent wasn't eligible for their own check. However, individuals who claimed dependents under 17 could receive a payment for them. The third check still prohibits dependents from claiming their own checks. However, individuals who claim dependents can now receive a payment for adult dependents as well as for dependent children over age 17.

There are also income limits. Each of the three checks is available in full to single tax filers with an income under $75,00. Heads of house with an income under $112,500 are also eligible, as are married joint filers with an income under $150,000. However, phase-out rules -- the level at which high earners lose eligibility for checks -- differ for each payment, as we'll discuss in more detail below.

The IRS utilized tax return information from 2018 or 2019 to determine income and eligibility for the first two checks. It will use tax return information from 2019 or 2020 to determine income and eligibility for the third payment. The agency also obtained information from the Social Security Administration and VA to send payments to benefits recipients who don't file tax returns. And it established an online form for non-filers to claim their payments.

How can I check my stimulus check status?

The IRS has created a website where you can check the status of your stimulus payment.

The Get My Payment tool is no longer updating for either the first or second stimulus check. However, you can use it to see the status of your third check.

  • If your payment has been processed. the IRS will specify its status including whether it has been sent, the date issued, and whether the money will be directly deposited or mailed.
  • If your status reads "Payment Not Available." The IRS either hasn't yet processed your payment or you aren't eligible for one.
  • If it reads "Need More Information." Your check was returned to the IRS after an attempted delivery. Give the IRS your bank information to receive your money.

If you did not get your first or second check, you'll need to file a 2020 tax return to get the payment.

How much will my stimulus check be?

The amount of your stimulus checks varies depending on your family status and income.

The first stimulus check was worth up to $1,200 per eligible adult and $500 per dependent child under 17. Single adults received as much as $1,200. Married couples with no children got up to $2,400. Married couples with two children received up to $3,400.

If your income exceeds $75,000 as a single filer, $112,500 as a head of household, or $150,000 as a married joint filer, your check amount was reduced at a rate of $5 per extra $100 earned. So if you made $76,000 as a single filer, your check would be reduced by $50.

Eligibility phased out for single filers with incomes above $99,000, heads of household with incomes above $136,500, and married joint filers with incomes above $198,000 for their own payments. However, some still received dependent payments. Married joint filers with two children and $199,000 in income would lose their own $2,400 payments but receive $950 of the $1,000 in dependent payments.

The second check provided $600 per eligible adult and child dependent. The phase-out rules worked the same way. However, because the check was for a smaller amount, eligibility disappeared entirely at a lower income threshold. Singles with incomes above $87,000 received no payment. Nor did heads of household with incomes above $124,500 -- unless they received some dependent funds. And married joint filers lost eligibility for their own payments at $174,000.

The third check is for $1,400 per eligible adult and eligible dependent (including adult dependents). However, the phase-out rules work differently. Individuals with incomes above $80,000 as a single filer, $120,000 as head of household, and $160,000 as married joint filers will not receive a payment at all, regardless of how many dependents they have.

When have stimulus checks been issued?

There have been three stimulus checks authorized by the U.S. government. Most of the money for the first two checks has already been paid out. The IRS began distributing the third payment the weekend of March 13, 2021. Payments for the third check are expected to continue through April.

Stimulus check 1, 2020

This is when the first stimulus check was delivered:

  • March 27: The CARES Act, which authorized the payment, was signed into law.
  • April 11: The IRS began making direct deposits to those with bank information on file. Most were delivered by April 15.
  • April 20: Paper stimulus checks started going out at a rate of around 5 million per week. Payments continued through early summer.
  • End of April: Beneficiaries of certain benefits, such as Social Security retirement benefits, began receiving payments at the end of April via direct deposit.
  • May: SSI beneficiaries began receiving checks, as did Social Security beneficiaries who use representative payees to manage their benefits.
  • May 18: IRS started to send payments via prepaid debit card, also known as Economic Impact Payment Cards.
  • June and July: Eligible individuals in U.S. territories started to receive stimulus payments.
  • August and September: Individuals who used the Get My Payment tool to report eligible dependents prior to May 17 began to receive checks if they'd missed out on dependent funds.
  • Mid-September: Individuals who lost payments because spouses owed past-due child support began receiving catch-up stimulus checks.
  • Nov. 21: Extended deadline for non-filers to use online tool to register and get their stimulus payment by Dec. 31, 2020.

Stimulus check 2, 2021

The timeline for the distribution of the second stimulus check was much shorter. Congress approved the coronavirus relief bill on Dec. 21, 2020 and it was signed into law on Dec. 28. The first direct deposits were made Dec. 29, and the first paper stimulus checks were put in the mail on Dec. 30.

The deadline for the IRS to provide the second check via mail, direct deposit, or debit card was Jan. 15, 2021. Anyone who did not receive their second check by Jan. 15 will have to file a tax return to get it.

Stimulus check 3, 2021

Direct deposits for the third check began the weekend of March 13. The IRS is expected to begin mailing physical checks by March 29 and will begin sending Economic Impact Payment cards (EIP cards) the week of April 5.

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What do I do if I didn't receive my stimulus check?

If you did not receive your stimulus check, you may need to take action to obtain your funds.

Stimulus check 1 and 2

If you did not receive your first or second stimulus check, you will need to file a 2020 tax return to obtain it. The IRS is accepting returns for the 2020 tax year so you can submit your forms as soon as you are able.

When you submit your 2020 tax return, you will be able to claim unpaid funds from your first and second stimulus check through the "Recovery Rebate Credit." You can claim this credit if you did not receive any stimulus money at all. If you received the incorrect amount, you can claim a partial credit and get any additional funds you're owed.

It's possible to claim your payment by filing your tax return because the stimulus checks were an advance on a tax credit. Unfortunately, since the IRS is no longer sending out these advances, the only way to claim unpaid stimulus money is to file a tax return. This means individuals who ordinarily wouldn't submit one will have to this year to get their funds.

E-filing your 2020 return and requesting a refund via direct deposit is the fastest way to claim any unpaid stimulus funds. You can file your return electronically for free if your income is under $72,000. The IRS has instructions on how to do that on its Free File website.

Stimulus check 3

If your third stimulus check hasn't yet arrived, chances are you don't have to do anything. The IRS is still in the process of sending out the payments and it may be several weeks before you get yours.

However, it's worth checking the IRS Get my Payment tool. If it says it needs more information, you should provide your bank details to obtain your funds. Likewise, you may need to file a 2020 tax return to claim your third check if:

  • You were claimed as a dependent in 2019 but not in 2020
  • Your income fell in 2020 and you were below the income thresholds for eligibility for the third check last year but not when you filed your most recent tax return

You should submit your 2020 return ASAP in these situations to ensure you receive all the money that's due. If you have a new dependent that you did not declare on your most recent return, you'll also need to file a 2020 return in order to obtain the $1,400 dependent payment.

When can we expect the next stimulus check?

The third stimulus check passed through a process called "budget reconciliation," which allowed Democrats to push the legislation through with a simple majority vote in the Senate. The bill did not get any Republican support.

There is a limit on the number of times reconciliation can be used. Democrats are now focused on other priorities and Republicans have made it clear they're not interested in providing additional COVID relief. As such, it's unlikely a fourth stimulus check will be authorized. This is especially true as states ease lockdowns and vaccinations ramp up.

Where can I invest my stimulus check?

If you need your stimulus checks to pay immediate bills, this should be your first priority. If you don't need the money immediately, you can invest your stimulus check. You have a number of options for how to do that.

High-yield savings accounts

The best high-yield savings accounts are a good place to invest your stimulus checks if you need the money soon or want to bolster your emergency fund. Investing in a high-yield savings account makes the money accessible, avoids risk, and can earn a reasonable rate of return.

Certificate of deposit

Opening a CD with your stimulus check can provide a higher interest rate than a high-yield savings account without requiring you to take on additional risk. Like savings accounts, certificates of deposit are FDIC insured. But you must be willing to allow your money to be locked up for a period of time to get the best CD rates. If you're not familiar with CDs, you can learn more about them with our guides, What Is a CD? and How Does a CD Work?


A brokerage allows you to invest in a variety of assets, including ETFs, stocks, and mutual funds. You can potentially earn larger returns by investing with one of the best online stock brokers.

However, be aware that stock market investments can go up as well as down, so you may risk losing your money. If you will need it within the next two to five years, this is probably not the best option. Short-term investing is riskier than making longer-term investments.

Money market account

Opening a money market with your stimulus check is another option. Money markets are similar to savings accounts, but you'll generally have easier access to your money through a debit card and/or checks. The best money market rates may be slightly lower than interest rates on savings accounts. This is the tradeoff you must accept for easier access to your money. However, like savings accounts and CDs, these are FDIC insured.

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  • A stimulus check is a payment authorized by the U.S. government to help cope with the financial impact of coronavirus. The CARES Act authorized checks of up to $1,200 per adult and $500 per dependent under age 17 in March of 2020. A subsequent relief bill provided for an additional $600 in stimulus money per eligible adult and eligible child dependent in December of 2020. And a third relief bill, the American Rescue Plan Act, was signed by President Joe Biden on March 11, 2021. The third bill provided for $1,400 payments for eligible adults and dependents.

    Despite the name, many payments were sent via direct deposit or debit card, as well as paper checks. The money was distributed by the IRS and is an advance on a tax credit.

  • Most Americans with Social Security numbers are eligible for coronavirus stimulus checks. However, those who file married joint returns with spouses who use ITIN numbers could not initially receive checks. Higher income Americans also saw their checks reduced or their eligibility eliminated entirely.

    The full amount of the stimulus checks was available for single filers earning up to $75,000, heads of household earning up to $112,500, and married joint filers earning up to $150,000. For those earning more, the amount of the check was reduced by $5 per each extra $100.

  • The first two coronavirus stimulus checks have been distributed, with the third being still in progress. Anyone who did not receive the full amount of stimulus funds due to them will need to file a tax return to get it.

    It is unlikely that a fourth check will be authorized as vaccinations ramp up and lockdown restrictions ease and lawmakers focus their efforts on other priorities.

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