Stimulus check qualifications are dizzying. What you should know for a future second payment


A change to qualifications could bring families more money.

Angela Lang/CNET

We won’t judge if you’re having trouble wrapping your head around the ins and outs of stimulus check qualifications and what might change or stay the same in a second payment. It’s confusing stuff. In fact, eligibility rules could become even more dizzying depending on the results of Tuesday’s election, which could wind up letting more groups of people qualify than before, or even get more money in the next check, depending on what makes it into the final stimulus package.

We’re here to help you detangle what it all could mean based on a long list of factors that include your yearly incomeagetax statusdependentschild support situation, citizenship and the age of people in a household. Some people may even be due a catch-up check from the first round, for missing dependents or if they’re in the prison system. Read on for what to know. This story was recently updated.

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Next stimulus checks: What to expect


Here’s who could be eligible for a second stimulus payment

We’ll start with this list we’ve gathered and break down more details for groups who fall into these categories.

It’s possible that if a second stimulus check is approved, it’ll follow many of the guidelines from the CARES Act that governed the first check in March. But it will probably also draw some changes from the revised Heroes Act (put forth by House Democrats) and HEALS Act (put forth by Republicans). Neither of those proposals is law.

Who could qualify for a second stimulus check

Qualifying group Likely to be covered by the final bill
Individuals An AGI of less than $99,000 (Same as CARES)
Head of household An AGI of less than $146,500 (Same as CARES)
Couple filing jointly An AGI less than $198,000 (Same as CARES)
Dependents of any age No limit (HEALS proposal; up to 3 in Heroes)
US citizens living abroad Yes, same as CARES
Citizens of US territories Likely, with payments handled by each territory’s tax authority (CARES)
SSDI and tax nonfilers Likely, but with an extra step to file (more below)
Uncertain status Could be set by court ruling or bill
Incarcerated people Excluded under CARES Act through IRS interpretation, judge overturned
Undocumented immigrants Qualifying “alien residents” are currently included under CARES
Disqualified group Unlikely to be covered by the final bill
Noncitizens who pay taxes (ITIN) Proposed in Heroes Act, unlikely to pass in Senate
Spouses, kids of ITIN filers Excluded under CARES Act, more below
People who owe child support Included in Heroes proposal, but excluded under CARES

The IRS is now giving people in prison a chance to file by Nov. 21

As a result of a class-action lawsuit in California, the IRS is now sending paperwork to prisons across the US so that up to 2 million people who are incarcerated can claim a stimulus check for as much as $1,200. Though the agency has appealed the ruling, it’s also legally bound to make it possible for people in prisons to file a claim. This group has until Nov. 4 if filing physical paperwork, and until Nov. 21 to file online, which may not be possible if internet access for inmates is restricted or unavailable. 

It isn’t clear if family members are able to claim the checks on the individuals’ behalf. If individuals miss the deadline, it may also be possible to claim a catch-up payment during the 2021 tax season, if they file taxes.

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Some people who live in the US or are not American citizens qualify

You don’t necessarily have to be an American citizen to qualify for the first stimulus check. The CARES Act stipulated that some permanent noncitizen residents, “resident aliens” and some people who live in US territories like Puerto Rico were eligible for a stimulus payment if they met a set of requirements.

However, there are millions of undocumented workers who pay taxes using an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number who weren’t eligible under the CARES Act. If married and filing jointly, any spouses and children who are US citizens would also be disqualified. Filing jointly is often done as part of the spouse’s path to a green card or citizenship. (Here’s more information on tax status from TurboTax.)

The Heroes Act, a proposal authored and backed by Democrats, called for undocumented immigrant residents of the US who pay taxes to also qualify for their own check or for a family’s payment. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the lead Democratic negotiator for the stimulus package, is said to be pushing for this group to be included in a bill that would authorize a second stimulus check.

Read moreIs this how you’d use a second stimulus check?


How much stimulus money you could get depends on who you are.

Angela Lang/CNET

Competing ways that dependent qualifications might change

Three separate proposals have changed the language concerning your dependents and how much money you could see in a final check if you claim them on your taxes. Two of these earlier proposals would add $500 for each dependent, regardless of the person’s age. 

The White House’s Oct. 9 offer seeks to largely keep the definition of a dependent restricted to “children” as defined in the bill, but it raises the value to $1,000, which would still net many families more money. The first stimulus check, approved in March, added $500 per each child under 17 years old. But unless your dependents fell into a different category, children 17 and older and adult dependents, like a parent, were passed over. 

The first proposal would benefit families with older dependents, while the second benefits younger families. We’ll show you how to calculate your estimated total here.

What happens if you share custody or owe child support?

Due to a specific rule, if you and the other parent of your child dependent alternate years claiming your child on your tax return, you may both be entitled to receive $500 more in your first stimulus check, and in the second if that rule doesn’t change.

If you owe child support, your stimulus money may be garnished for arrears (the amount you owe).

Taxes are part of stimulus eligibility, even if you don’t pay them

For most people, taxes and stimulus checks are tightly connected. For example, the most important factor in setting income limits is adjusted gross income, or AGI, which determines how much of the $1,200 for individuals and $2,400 for married couples you could receive if you meet the other requirements.

Our stimulus check calculator can show you how much money you could potentially expect from a second check, based on your most recent tax filing. Read below for your eligibility if you don’t typically file taxes.

Older or retired adults may have a range of rules and exceptions

Many older adults, including retirees over age 65, received a first stimulus check under the CARES Act, and would likely be eligible for a second one. For older adults and retired people, factors like your tax filingsyour AGI, your pension, if you’re part of the SSDI program (more below) and whether the IRS considers you a dependent would likely affect your chances of receiving a second payment. 

What to do if you didn’t file a federal tax return in 2018 or 2019

People who weren’t required to file a federal income tax return in 2018 or 2019 may still be eligible to receive the first stimulus check under the CARES Act. If that guideline doesn’t change for a second stimulus check, this group would qualify again. Here are reasons you might not have been required to file:

  • You’re over 24, you’re not claimed as a dependent and your income is less than $12,200.
  • You’re married filing jointly and together your income is less than $24,400.
  • You have no income.
  • You receive federal benefits, such as Social Security or Social Security Disability Insurance. See below for more on SSDI.

With the first stimulus check, nonfilers needed to provide the IRS with some information before they could receive their payment. (If you still haven’t received a first check even though you were eligible, the IRS has extended its deadline to use its Non-Filers tool through Nov. 21.) The IRS is also reaching out to 9 million Americans who may fall into this category but who haven’t requested their payment.

SSI and SSDI: Could you still get a stimulus payment?

Those who are part of the SSI or SSDI program also qualify for a check under the CARES Act. Recipients wouldn’t receive their payments via their Direct Express card, which the government typically uses to distribute federal benefits, but through a non-Direct Express bank account or as a paper check. SSDI recipients also need to use the IRS’ Non-Filers tool to request a payment for themselves and dependents.

For more, here’s what we know about the major proposals for a second stimulus package. We also have information on unemployment insurance, what you can do if you’ve lost your job, if you could receive two refund checks from the IRS and what to know about evictions.


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