5 ways your stimulus check could be smaller this time around


If a second check goes through, the amount you could get per adult may vary greatly.

Angela Lang/CNET

An eleventh-hour objection by President Donald Trump Tuesday night threw the fate of the second stimulus check into question. Instead of the $600 per person maximum that Congress passed in the new $900 billion stimulus bill, Trump hinted — but did not outright say — he might not sign the bill into law unless the stimulus check has an upper limit of $2,000 per person. That’s a figure many Democrats but few of Trump’s fellow Republicans have embraced since the first stimulus payment was authorized in March.

Trump argued for dropping other spending that’s part of an omnibus bill combining COVID-19 relief with measures to fund the government for the next year, including programs unrelated to the coronavirus pandemic. The House of Representatives introduced a resolution Thursday morning that would bring the second stimulus check payment up to $2,000 per person, but House Republicans blocked it.

“If the President is serious about the $2,000 direct payments, he must call on House Republicans to end their obstruction,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement Thursday. “On Monday, I will bring the House back to session where we will hold a recorded vote on our stand-alone bill to increase economic impact payments to $2,000… Hopefully by then the President will have already signed the bipartisan and bicameral legislation to keep government open and to deliver coronavirus relief.”

If the current $600-per-person maximum does become the basis for a second stimulus check, there are several ways you might have a lower total than someone else. While some qualifications have loosened in the second stimulus check, the change from a larger to much smaller upper limit could even disqualify you from a second payment altogether. (President-elect Joe Biden has committed to an third stimulus check in 2021 and Congress holds the key to a bigger stimulus bill.) We recently updated this story.

If the second stimulus check maxes at $600, then…

Although Trump has pushed for a $2,000 stimulus check, and other US leaders have also, over the past nine months, rallied behind a $1,200 upper limit, Congress’ scaled-back stimulus bill would give qualified adults and their child dependents no more than $600 apiece in a second stimulus check. Biden said Dec. 22 that he stands behind a third stimulus check as well.

That $600 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, a single taxpayer would get the full $600 if they make under $75,000 per year. But if they make more than that, they’d only receive a partial payment that gets progressively smaller the more money they make per year, according to their AGI, until the reach an upper threshold, after which they wouldn’t qualify for a stimulus check at all.

Because of this mathematical equation used to calculate your second stimulus check allowance, the upper threshold is lower than before, which means more people won’t be eligible to receive even a partial check as long as they make more than a certain amount of money. Again, our second stimulus check calculator can help illustrate this.

Stimulus money: $600 versus $1,200 maximum

$600 stimulus check $1,200 stimulus check
Individual taxpayer, no child dependents $600 maximum $1,200 maximum
Individual taxpayer, 1 child dependent $1,200 maximum $1,700 maximum
Individual taxpayer, 2 child dependents $1,800 maximum $2,200 maximum
Married couple, no child dependents
$1,200 maximum $2,400 maximum
Married couple, 1 child dependent $1,800 maximum $2,900 maximum
Married couple, 2 child dependents $2,400 maximum $3,400 maximum

You earned a higher salary in 2019 than 2018

Your adjusted gross income, or AGI, is a term normally used on the IRS’ yearly tax return to describe your total income, including assets (like stock sales, credits and deductions or an inheritance, for example) 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 a second stimulus check of $600.

The first stimulus check was based on your 2018 taxes or your 2019 taxes, if you had filed them. But if you got a new job or earned more money between 2018 to 2019 (congratulations), then you may find that you may only be eligible for a partial amount for yourself. However, any child dependents would still contribute to the total sum. 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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Second stimulus checks: Everything you need to know


You now have fewer dependents than before

Age has so far been 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 a 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, after flirting with expanding the definition to include dependents of any age. However, if this bill becomes law, any “older” child dependents you claimed for the first check that have aged out of eligibility, would mean you would not receive your allotted $600 for every dependent 17 years old and above. 


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

Sarah Tew/CNET

A calculation error might bring a smaller check

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 someone in your household recently die?

Our condolences. If your household received a stimulus check that included 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 on stimulus, here are top facts you need to know about stimulus checks.

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