8 stimulus check variables that could make your third payment much, much more than $1,400

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More stimulus money might be coming to you. Here are all the ways you could see a larger third payment.


Sarah Tew/CNET

Details are still in flux on the third stimulus check front, but it’s looking increasingly likely that payments will max out at $1,400 per person. Democrats are speeding the latest version of their $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill toward a potential end-of-the-week vote in the House. As the bill stands now, several qualifications have changed since the first two checks, changes that could result in smaller checks — or much, much larger ones.

The ins and outs of another stimulus payment could still change, but we have enough to go on to lay out how your household’s check could expand this round, based on more than just the $1,400 maximum per person. (By the way, extensions to the child tax credit could add another bonus, and some Californians could see an extra $600 check.)

Among the qualifications changing are income limits and who qualifies as a dependent. Below we’ve outlined eight factors to consider when determining how much stimulus money to expect (or if you should prepare for the possibility of not qualifying at all). We’ll walk through some hypothetical situations. This story was recently updated.

1. Dependents: $1,400 for dependents means your check total could multiply

Dependents don’t get their own checks, but they count toward the family total. With the first check, children age 16 and under counted for $500 apiece, while adults factored in for up to $1,200. The second check counted child dependents for $600, the same as their parents or guardians.

The third stimulus check is set to raise the figure to $1,400 apiece for everyone (adults would still be calculated on a sliding scale based on adjusted gross income, or AGI). So in theory, a family of four that met all the income requirements could receive up to $5,600 (calculate your estimate here)


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2. Age: More dependents will qualify, since age won’t matter

Who counts as a dependent? The next stimulus package could have a different answer. For the first and second checks, a dependent was understood to be any child aged 16 or younger. But the new definition would include anyone you can claim on your tax returns — such as children over 16, older adults under your care and child dependents of any age with disabilities. If approved, that would bring your family more money by raising the number of overall dependents who qualify.

3. Babies and other additions: Does your household have a new dependent since last year?

If you had or adopted a new child, if an older relative moves in with you or if for whatever other reason you’ve gained a dependent since the last round of stimulus payments, you may see a larger check.

4. Citizenship: Are you a ‘mixed-status’ citizenship family? You may qualify for a stimulus check

Under Biden’s stimulus plan, more families who are considered “mixed-status” would be eligible for a stimulus check. The second payment broadened the rules for the first check by making it possible for families where one spouse is a US citizen to be eligible for a check. Biden’s proposal would work with more scenarios; for example, it would potentially provide stimulus check money to a household of US-citizen children with noncitizen parents. It isn’t clear if this would pass as part of the final bill.

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Did you recently get married or have a baby? That could mean more money in a third stimulus payment — potentially as soon as March.


Sarah Tew/CNET

5. Employment: If your employment status changed, it could affect your payment

If you became unemployed this year or your wages dropped, that could lower your adjusted gross income, which is used to determine your payment. For example, if you got a partial payment with the first or second check, a third check could bring you a full payment if you’re no longer employed.

6. Marital status: What happens if you got married and are filing jointly for the first time? 

Depending on several variables that include your spouse’s filing status and any new dependents, a change in marital status could result in a larger check. For example, if you were single and filing alone, you got $1,200 at most the first time around. Married, you could be eligible for up to $2,400, since the IRS formula used to determine your total stimulus money is based on your combined household income.

If a third stimulus check arrives for $2,000 per person, your spouse could double it to $4,000. Alternatively, if your personal AGI would only get you a partial stimulus check payment on your own, filing jointly with a spouse with an income under the threshold could qualify you for the whole check total.

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With a third check, your stimulus money could add up.


Sarah Tew/CNET

7. Custody: Do you share custody of a dependent? It could make a difference

If you meet specific qualifications, you and the child’s other parent may both be entitled to claim extra stimulus money. That means you could get an extra $500 or more in the third stimulus check, especially if anything in your situation changed between the time you filed your 2019 tax return and your future 2020 return. The third check allowance would be based on your most recent tax filing.

8. Inmates: A change involving inmates could become permanent

A federal judge has ruled that the IRS owes stimulus checks to inmates in prison who qualify. If the ruling stands, these people may be entitled to a third stimulus check as well as the first two, with more potential money for dependents.

Note: Stimulus checks won’t be for undocumented residents

In the past, Democrats proposed that undocumented US residents be eligible for stimulus relief funds if they pay taxes (through an ITIN number). This provision was part of the Heroes Act that passed the House of Representatives in two forms but didn’t become law. 

With the third check, you’d need to have a Social Security number to be eligible, or be part of a mixed-status family where one household member has a Social Security number, if that’s approved. On Feb. 4, the Senate passed an amendment blocking stimulus payments from undocumented immigrants. Though the amendment isn’t binding, it seems unlikely that senators would change their position now that they’re on the record.

Here’s everything else you need to know about stimulus checks today, including how to claim any missing stimulus money on your 2020 tax return and how to contact the IRS about your missing payment.



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