March 2, 2021

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When will your next stimulus check arrive? Thanks to new info, we may now know – CNET

6 min read
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How a third payment could be proposed could also affect when it happens.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The path to a third stimulus check is already speedier than the nine-month slog that led to the $600 second payment. Question marks still hang over the third stimulus check, but after some early back and forth, signs already indicate it could come in at $1,400 per qualified adult — that is, with some possible income restrictions that could affect eligibility and “target” who gets a check.

We also have an inkling of when President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 stimulus package could be signed into law. The calendar is circled for March 14 — a goal more than a definitive date, according to CNN — that coincides with the expiration date for benefits like the federal $300 weekly bonus in unemployment insurance. But that date is still a best-case scenario, as Congress prepares to be embroiled in the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump starting Feb. 9. 

Even if Biden does sign a bill into law on March 14, setting a $1,400 stimulus check in motion, there could still be a gap between the time it gets the green light to the time it arrives in your hands. Some of that could depend on the way your money arrives. We’ll start with the March 14 timeline and map out some possible dates, plus everything that could complicate the situation — like if your third payment arrives during the 2020 tax season. This story has been updated with new information.

Here’s when a third stimulus payment could be sent

We looked at some hypothetical dates that fall within the March 14 timeframe we’ve been hearing about. The chart below highlights a possible timeline for when the next stimulus check could be approved and arrive, based on how quickly the IRS processed and sent out the second stimulus payments. 

Note that checks for different payment groups (direct depositphysical checks and EIP cards) may begin to arrive at different times, and it could take weeks for people in a group to all get their funds, so consider these dates a starting point only, and read on for more details. We’ll refresh these dates as the situation changes in Washington.

When could the next stimulus check arrive?

Stimulus check passes Congress Friday, March 12
Stimulus bill signed into law Sunday, March 14
First direct-deposit check sent Week of March 22
First paper checks sent Week of March 29
First EIP cards sent Week of April 5
Claims for missing stimulus money open May 3

How quickly could the IRS send the entire third round of checks?

In under three weeks, the IRS and Treasury sent roughly 147 million second stimulus payments. That was a tremendously fast turnaround with the second payout. In comparison, it took the IRS 19 days from the date the March 2019 stimulus bill passed to the day the first check was issued. 

Conversely, the Dec. 27 stimulus package gave the IRS just 17 days total, including weekends, to legally send out the payments, and some people have reported that they received their EIP cards two weeks after the date the IRS tool said it had shipped. (If you didn’t get yours, you have to claim it as part of tax season 2020.)

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There was one notable direct deposit error as a result of the IRS’ rush to get payments delivered, and people who didn’t get their payment may now have to wait weeks or months for their second checks. But the scenario suggests that if the protocols are in place, the IRS could theoretically ship out third stimulus checks within days and weeks, rather than weeks and months.

As an interesting data point, the IRS was able to process between 5 million and 7 million a week with the first stimulus check, according to a government report from June.

How would tax season impact the next stimulus check?

This is a great question, and one we repeatedly ask ourselves: How the IRS and Treasury would handle a third stimulus check. Some of that could very well depend on timing. 

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How you get your second stimulus check could also influence how soon your payment arrives.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Let’s say that a stimulus bill were to pass both chambers of Congress before March. 14, a month after the IRS begins processing the first 2020 tax returns. Would they send a separate check or attempt to bundle them in with the Recovery Rebate Credit for missing money from the first two checks? Either way, the IRS would have very little time or available resources to process the third checks, or change their protocol to wrap the second into taxes.

If a bill passes March 14, it would still overlap with tax season by a month, before the April 15 tax deadline. 

By that time, tens of millions of Americans may have already received their tax refunds, which could make it tricky for the IRS to straighten out or redact after issuing. Things could get complex whether the IRS would attempt to fold a third check delivery into the remaining tax cycle, or send a payment separately.

Is there any way to get my next check faster?

There may be a few things you can do to help speed up receipt of your payment, assuming it happens. For example, signing up for direct deposit in your 2020 tax return would put you in the priority category for a third stimulus payment. 

And if you’ve moved recently, tell the IRS and USPS. Here are our other suggestions for people to get their second checks faster. Note that, there could be some changes to qualifications that may not apply to a possible third stimulus check.

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The first and second stimulus checks were nominally sorted by different payment groups, and one had a clear advantage over the others.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Would the new bill add another deadline for the IRS to deliver checks? 

The Jan. 15 deadline set for the second stimulus check was written into the text of the bill without explanation. It isn’t immediately clear if the bill text would adopt another cutoff in the future, or if that was a one-time consideration that took into account the IRS’ overlapping duties to process stimulus checks and prepare for Tax Season 2020. Last year, the April 15 tax date was extended to July 15.

The two overlap with the second stimulus check in that anyone who didn’t receive all or part of their second payment must claim it as part of the IRS’ Recovery Rebate Credit on their tax return — even if they have nonfiler status and aren’t typically required to file taxes.

How might your priority group affect when you’d get your third payment?

We noticed with the first check that the IRS seems to organize when payments go out into certain categories of people based on the method of payment — basically, payment groups. The second check seemed to have followed the same de facto priority. 

While we can’t say for certain what the IRS will do this time, the main payment groups have consisted of people who get their checks through direct deposit (the largest group, and the quickest delivery), through paper checks in the mail and through EIP debit cards. The cards are a method the IRS has told CNET gets payments out faster than physical checks, but which was also the last payment method to go out in both stimulus check rounds. It also requires that you activate a prepaid debit card.

The other groups that are loosely defined (by us) include social security beneficiaries, who received payments a different way the first time if they’re part of the SSI or SSDI programs, and people with more complex scenarios, which could lead to potential issues or holdups receiving their money. People in child support situations have been an example, and so have people who are incarcerated, as well as those with more complex citizenship scenarios.

A third stimulus payment seems like it’s coming — is it guaranteed?

While it appears likely given the current discussions in Washington and Biden’s campaign promises around helping everyday Americans with a direct payment, whether a third stimulus check happens or not, and which form it could take, is up to Congress. The rest, for now, is the basis of today’s public conversations in government — and from those discussions, we form educated guesses until or unless a new law becomes definitive.

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