When will your second stimulus check arrive, and why does the Jan. 15 cutoff matter?


Timing is critical in delivering a second stimulus check to over 100 million Americans.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The US government is moving much faster to get your second stimulus check delivered than it did the first round. By now millions of payments of up to $600 per person may’ve already gone out through direct deposit, physical checks in the mail and EIP cards. (Here’s how to calculate how much stimulus money you could get.)

Turns out, there’s a reason for the haste. The $900 billion stimulus bill institutes a self-imposed Jan. 15 cutoff to send the second stimulus check, which leaves just a 17-day window from the first Dec. 29 delivery to process potentially over 100 million payments. When your specific second stimulus check will arrive has a lot to do with where you fall in line in your payment group, and if your stimulus payment makes that cutoff. If not, you could be waiting awhile.

We’ll explain more about this IRS deadline and what happens if you don’t receive your second stimulus check by then — or even your first payment. While you’re here, this is how to track a paper stimulus check or EIP card to your mailbox, and what we know about a third stimulus check in 2021. This story is updated with additional details.

Direct deposit payments are already underway

On Dec. 29, the IRS announced it started making its initial direct deposit payments to bank accounts, with payments continuing into the week. The IRS said eligible individuals do not need to take any action to receive this second payment and it will use the information it has on file to make the payment. 

The IRS cautioned that some “may see the direct deposit payments as pending or as provisional payments in their accounts before the official payment date of January 4, 2021.”

At this point, you can’t register a new direct deposit account with the IRS — that could potentially change in the upcoming week, but we don’t know for sure. In the chart below, we map out the payment schedule for the second round of checks, plus a projection if Congress approves a third stimulus check next year, after President-elect Joe Biden is sworn in on Jan. 20.

Second stimulus check timeline

Dates for second check Hypothetical dates for a third stimulus check
House passed final bill Dec. 21 April 5
Senate passed final bill Dec. 21 April 6
President signs Dec. 27 April 7
First direct deposits issued Dec. 29 Week of April 12
First paper checks sent Dec. 30 Week of April 12
First EIP cards sent Dec. 30 Week of April 12
Recovery Rebate Credit After filing 2020 tax returns Unknown

Paper stimulus checks and EIP cards are in the mail. Some could miss the deadline

If the IRS doesn’t have your current direct deposit information on file, it will send the payment as a check or EIP debit card in the mail — they began Dec. 30. It isn’t clear if the IRS has time to process all the tens of thousands of payments before Jan. 15. It may be that some won’t make the deadline. Here’s how you can track your second stimulus check to your mailbox, for free, to set your expectations and to help prevent you from accidentally throwing it away.

How to track your second stimulus check status

The IRS said it is updating its online Get My Payment tracking tool for the second round of payments and anticipates those who qualify for a check will be able to see the status of both the first and second payments in a few days, after the portal is updated. The portal is available in English and Spanish.

What’s the deal with prepaid EIP debit cards?

The IRS said that to speed delivery of the payments, it will send make some payments using an Economic Impact Payment prepaid debit card and notes that some people who received a paper check last time might receive a debit card this time, and some people who received a debit card last time may receive a paper check.

The IRS warns that those who are eligible but don’t receive a direct deposit should watch their mail for a check or EIP debit card. The debit cards will arrive in a white envelope that displays the US Department of the Treasury seal, the IRS said.

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Why is Jan. 15 such an important date again?

Jan. 15 is the cutoff date in the $900 billion stimulus bill; after the middle of January, the IRS and US Treasury must stop sending payments. 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 less likely 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.

How long could it take to get my second stimulus check in the mail?

Since the new stimulus bill set that 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 starting now through the first weeks of January, according to the IRS. 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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