A person holds a stimulus check with two hands, facing the camera

No Stimulus Check Yet? Here’s What To Expect

Whether you’re checking your account balance or checking your mailbox, waiting for an expected stimulus payment can be frustrating. We help you figure out if a payment might still be on its way, and what you can do to claim any credit due to you.

Portrait of Katie J. Skipper

Katie J. Skipper (She, Her, Hers)
BECU Community Content Manager
Published Apr 20, 2021 in: Jobs & Income

Read time: 7 minutes

Federal stimulus payments have brought a little financial relief to millions of Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic, but some are still waiting to receive their first and second payments while others have already received their third.

Requirements changed with each round, and, if your own financial situation changed, it can be tough to figure out how much of a payment you'll get and when you'll get it.

We looked into the details to answer some common questions.

I got the first stimulus payment. Shouldn't I get the other two — or at least part of them?

Just because you received the first round of stimulus payments doesn't mean you're a shoo-in for rounds two and three.

The income limits for the maximum stimulus payment were the same in all three rounds. To receive the maximum payment ($1,200 per adult in the first round, $600 in the second round and $1,400 in the third round), your adjusted gross income couldn't exceed:

  • $150,000 if married and filing jointly with your spouse
  • $112,500 if filing as head of household
  • $75,000 for eligible individuals using any filing status

Where the income requirements differ is in what's called the "phase-out" rate — the rate the IRS used to calculate partial payment if you didn't qualify for the full amount. This rate lowered the top end of what you could earn while allowing you to still get some stimulus funds.

Payments phased out at lower amounts with each round. If you earned more than these amounts, you didn't qualify for a partial payment:

  • First round income cap: $100,000 single taxpayer, $146,000 head of household, $198,000 filing jointly
  • Second round income cap: $87,000 single, $124,000 head of household, $174,000 filing jointly
  • Third round income cap: $80,000 single, $120,000 head of household, $160,000 filing jointly

We'll get into which year the payments were based on a little later.

How did changes to the citizenship requirements affect payments? 

In the first round of stimulus payments, only U.S. citizens and non-U.S. citizens with Social Security numbers were eligible. Even so, if you filed a tax return jointly with someone who didn't meet citizenship requirements, neither of you would have gotten a payment, nor would you have gotten a payment for your dependents. The spouse with a Social Security number could, however, get a payment if the couple filed taxes separately.

The requirements changed in December with passage of the COVID-related Tax Relief Act of 2020, allowing joint filers in "mixed status" families to get payments if one spouse was a U.S. citizen or non-citizen with a Social Security number and the other wasn't. The payment is based only on the spouse with a Social Security number. This time around, the family would get payments for all dependents, too.

The change retroactively applies to the first payment, so if you didn't receive your payment because of this citizenship requirement in the first round, you can claim the recovery rebate credit on your 2020 tax return, if you haven't filed it yet.

How much should I have received for my dependents?

Stimulus payments and eligibility requirements for dependents — not to be confused with child tax credits — are different for each round. Here are the amounts and dependent age limits for each round of stimulus payments:

  • First round: $500 for each dependent, 16 and younger
  • Second round: $600 for each dependent 16 and younger
  • Third round: $1,400 for each dependent, no age limit

For the first two rounds, dependent children could qualify you for partial stimulus payments even if your income exceeded the top limit. Not so with round three. Those limits are firm, so dependents don't qualify you for a payment if your income is higher than the maximum income limit.

How does the IRS figure out how much to pay? 

Keep in mind the IRS can only calculate your payments based on the tax returns you've filed.

That means if you lost your job in 2020, for example, the IRS won't know if you were eligible for more money until you file your 2020 taxes. (If you haven't filed yet, don't worry. The deadline was extended to May 17, 2021.)

The amounts of your first two stimulus checks were based on the taxable income reported on your 2018 or 2019 tax return. If you're eligible for more money, you'll want to claim the recovery rebate credit on your 2020 tax return. Even if you aren't required to file a tax return based on your income, you'll need to file a tax return to claim the credit.

Here's what the IRS says about it: "People who don't normally file a tax return and don't receive federal benefits may qualify for stimulus payments. These include those without a permanent address, an income or bank account. If you're eligible and didn't get a first or second Economic Impact Payment (that is, an EIP1 or EIP2) or got less than the full amounts, you may be eligible for the 2020 Recovery Rebate Credit, but you'll need to file a 2020 tax return. See the special section on IRS.gov: Claiming the 2020 Recovery Rebate Credit if you aren't required to file a tax return."

Your third payment is based on your 2020 income, but it's technically an advance payment of a 2021 tax credit, so don't claim it on your 2020 taxes. The IRS used your 2019 return to calculate your payment if you haven't completed your 2020 tax return yet. The IRS has started sending "plus-up payments" to those who the agency owes more, so if your income was based on your 2019 return and you recently filed your 2020 tax return, more money could be coming your way soon.

Where are stimulus payments being sent?

If you received previous tax refunds or stimulus payments by direct deposit, that's where the IRS will attempt to send any money due to you. If you don't have direct deposit information on file with the IRS, you'll receive your payment as a check or debit card in the mail.

If the funds are sent to an account that is closed, your financial institution is required to send the funds back to the IRS. If this happens, you may be able to claim your payment as a recovery rebate credit on your 2020 tax return.

You can check the status of your third stimulus payment on the IRS website with the Get My Payment tool. You can also check the status of your tax refund on the IRS website with the Check My Refund Status tool.

If you know a payment is coming and you don't want to keep checking the status, most financial institutions have an automated system you can set up to receive an alert when a large deposit arrives in your account.

This article is intended to provide generalized financial information designed to educate a broad segment of the public; it does not give personalized tax, investment, legal, or other business and professional advice. Before taking any action, you should always seek the assistance of a professional who knows your particular situation for advice on taxes, your investments, the law, or any other business and professional matters that affect you and/or your business.

Portrait of Katie J. Skipper

Katie J. Skipper (She, Her, Hers)
BECU Community Content Manager

Katie writes for BECU about personal finance and social justice topics. Her career spans reporting for newspapers and communicating on behalf of government agencies and private businesses. Learn about Katie's career and education on LinkedIn.