Second stimulus check: When the IRS will send your payment and why Jan. 15 matters


Timing is critical in delivering a second stimulus check to as many as 160 million Americans.

Sarah Tew/CNET

President Donald Trump has finally signed into law the latest COVID-19 relief bill that includes a second stimulus check for up to $600 per person. There was already a tight schedule to send out this second stimulus check, but one rule could mean that some people will need to wait weeks or even months longer to get paid.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said last week that the second stimulus payments could start to go out to eligible recipients a week after the bill was signed, first through direct deposit, followed by paper checks and EIP cards. (Here’s how to calculate an estimate for your stimulus payment, and what could happen with a third stimulus check in 2021.)

However, a short deadline laid out in the relief bill could require tens of millions to take an additional step to claim their stimulus money — read on for more information and check back on this story for updates.

Why is Jan. 15, 2021 an important date?

January 15 is the cutoff date in the $900 billion stimulus bill by which time the IRS and US Treasury must stop sending checks as part of this round of delivery. If you don’t receive your full second stimulus check money by Jan. 15, you will need to claim all or part of the missing amount when you file your federal tax returns in 2021 through the Recovery Rebate Credit. You’ll also be able to claim any money the IRS still owes you from the first round of payments.

People who receive their stimulus payment through direct deposit are unlikely to be affected. But there is potentially a distinct disadvantage for people who don’t have direct deposit set up with the IRS.

Tying the delivery of a second stimulus check to the 2020 tax return will almost certainly delay delivery for many people, since a wide variance in circumstances will cause some people to file taxes as early as January and others as late as April 15, or even later if they need to request an extension. It also isn’t clear how quickly the IRS would process the payments.

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How quickly could the IRS deliver my second stimulus payment?

Now that Trump has relented and signed the new stimulus bill into law, the IRS and Treasury are expected to send the first batch of payments via direct deposit possibly as soon as this week, compared with the 19 days it took to set up the online tools and schedule distribution of the first stimulus check.

“Most of these will be direct deposits. We call them ‘checks in the mail,’ but most will be direct deposits,” Mnuchin said Dec. 21. “It will be within three weeks. We are determined to get money in people’s pockets immediately. So that will be within three weeks.” 

As of last summer, 75% of the first round of stimulus payments were sent straight to people’s bank accounts using direct deposit, the Treasury said, which brings hope for the majority of people to receive their second payment before Jan. 15.

In the chart below, we map out a possible payment schedule for the second round of checks, plus a projection if Congress approves a third stimulus check next year, after Biden is sworn in on Jan. 20.

Possible dates a second and third stimulus check could go out

Dates for second check Dates for possible third check?
House passes final bill Dec. 21 April 5
Senate passes final bill Dec. 21 April 6
President signs Dec. 27 April 7
First direct deposits issued Week of Jan. 4 Week of April 12
First paper checks sent Week of Jan. 11 Week of April 19
First EIP cards sent After filing 2020 tax returns Week of April 26
Recovery Rebate Credit After filing 2020 tax returns Unknown

How long could it take to get your second stimulus check by mail?

Since the new stimulus bill sets a Jan. 15 deadline for the IRS to send out payments, people who will receive their second stimulus check in the mail — either as a paper check or a prepaid debit card — should look for a payment in the first three weeks of January, Mnuchin said on Dec. 21. According to the Treasury, 22% of the payments as of last summer were made by paper checks and another 3% by prepaid debit cards

However, after Jan. 15, you will have to claim any money the IRS owes you with your tax filing in 2021. That could further delay your stimulus check, since the timing would hinge on:

  • When you file your 2020 taxes — the deadline could be April 15, unless you file for an extension.
  • How long it takes the IRS to process your tax return, which may also include your second stimulus check.
  • If there are any complications that arise in your specific scenario that could further delay your check.

We’ll keep our eye on the situation, which is constantly evolving. Here are the latest second stimulus check updates and here’s how you can calculate your estimated total now for a $600 per person maximum.

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