Every way your next stimulus check may be smaller this time


If a second check goes through, you may not get the full $1,200 per adult.


Angela Lang/CNET

With the days running out on 2020, a second stimulus check is still a possibility as negotiators rush to complete a deal. But this next COVID-19 stimulus package isn’t intended to be a large-scale bill. Instead, the more modest-size legislation includes a halved second stimulus check.

It may be that the second stimulus check has a $600 per person maximum, rather than $1,200. But interestingly, the latest proposed stimulus bill for $900 billion also provides $600 for dependents, up from $500 previously, and also might remove an age barrier to let more family members qualify overall.

Less funding for a second stimulus check isn’t the only reason another payment might spell less money than you got before (or make you ineligible altogether) — read on for everything that could change in the next bill. This story was recently updated.

Read more: Will there be a third stimulus check in 2021? Why does Congress hold the key to a $1,200 payment?

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Your second stimulus check could stop at $600 per adult 

While some lawmakers are pushing for a $1,200 stimulus check per qualified adult, a smaller overall bill would give qualified adults and their dependents $600 apiece, regardless of the dependent’s age, The Washington Post reported.

At that rate, most households would automatically get a smaller check than before. Remember, too, that even if a bill passes with a $1,200 maximum per adult, there may still be reasons you might see less money for your household.

In the meantime, here’s how the new $600 stimulus check proposal could shake out for you and your loved ones. 

Stimulus money: $600 versus $1,200 maximum

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

If you began a new job or earned more money overall

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 would probably be true of any future stimulus payment.

There’s a direct correlation between your tax status and stimulus check, and any change in your AGI could increase or reduce the size of your check.

For instance, if you received the full $1,200 per qualified adult with the first stimulus check because your AGI was under the income limit, but then you got a promotion or a new job that pays more (congratulations), your next check could be smaller. Or you may have maxed out the threshold and no longer qualify. All told, this is a “good” problem to have.

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Kids grow up, and you could be out $500 per child.


Sarah Tew/CNET

New changes to stimulus rules could affect you

Since the terms of the second stimulus check aren’t finalized yet — and likely won’t be until the president signs a bill into law — it isn’t clear how they may or may not change. There’s also the way the IRS may interpret the law and act or withhold stimulus money. For example, after the CARES Act was signed in March, the IRS first sent people in prison and jail a stimulus check, then asked for it back and stopped issuing new checks. A recent ruling from a federal judge has started them up again. 

If this law, and others regarding citizenship status in the US, US territories or abroad, were to change, someone who was eligible to receive the first payment could be disqualified for a second check. 

If you have fewer dependents now 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 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. 

If the rules change, any older dependents you claimed for the first check will not have aged out of eligibility, which means you could get $600 per dependent. But if they have experienced a life event, for example, starting a new job or becoming a parent, they may qualify as an independent adult, and may be eligible to receive a stimulus check of their own.

This child support situation could apply to you

For the most part, you can use any stimulus check you receive as you like. However, one exception spelled out in the CARES Act from March had to do with child support. If you owe child support to your kid’s other parent, you may have some or all of your stimulus check garnished. If you received an extra $500 for the way you and the other parent filed a dependency claim (it’s complicated), and then changed how you filed in your 2019 tax reserve (for example, if the other parent gained full custody), you may not get the extra $500, or $600 this next time. Here’s more information about child support situations.

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A few entities are allowed to seize your stimulus money.


Sarah Tew/CNET

You’ve fallen behind on payments to creditors or private banks

Normally, your stimulus money can’t be garnished to pay rent or federal tax. There are a few exceptions, however, including the child support situation above. If these rules don’t change with the next stimulus bill, then there are two groups — private creditors and banks — who could legitimately seize all or part of your money from the first, and likely a second, check.

Did you move and the IRS doesn’t have your address?

If you moved as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and haven’t filed a change of address form with the USPS or IRS (a good step to take), the agency may not know where to send a paper check or EIP card. If you received your first stimulus delivery through direct deposit, the IRS will likely go that route again. If you changed bank accounts, you may run into a holdup or need to contact the IRS to file a further claim.

A calculation or other error could cause 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. Perhaps you moved (see above). 

Whatever the reason, if some issue prevents you from receiving all or part of your stimulus money, you should be able to claim a rebate. The IRS is currently sorting through these stimulus payment omissions now for a wide range of groups and will likely do so again if a second check comes to be.

Did someone in your household die since your last tax filing?

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. If the person is recently deceased (by the time the next check arrives), the IRS may ask for the payment to be returned.

For more on stimulus, here’s everything you need to know about stimulus checks.



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