The New Stimulus Check: Smaller, But Perhaps Faster?

Cropped shot of an affectionate young couple going through paperwork while doing their budget at home
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The government's second pandemic-era stimulus check may be half the size of the first, but what it lacks in size, it may make up for in speed.

The payments of up to $600, part of a new pandemic relief package approved by Congress Monday night, could reach people as early as the beginning of next week, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin told CNBC on Monday. The last step is for President Donald Trump to sign the bill into law. 

“This is a very, very fast way of getting money into the economy,” Mnuchin said in that interview.

The latest stimulus payments—up to $600 for individuals and $1,200 for married couples that file their taxes jointly—are half the size of the ones authorized by the CARES Act in the spring, when the COVID-19 pandemic first rocked the economy. Adults with qualifying children will get more: up to $600 per child rather than $500 per child.

Mnuchin’s statement on the timing of the payments suggests the IRS and Treasury Department will move faster than it did in the spring, when it sent out 81 million electronic payments within two weeks of the CARES Act’s enactment, according to a June report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). The Treasury Department did not respond to questions about the potential timing of the payments.

Just like the checks in the first round, the new payment amounts will phase out for higher earning taxpayers (as reported in 2019 tax returns.) The full $600 applies to individuals earning up to $75,000 ($1,200 for married couples who file taxes jointly and earn up to $150,000) and to individual heads of household earning $112,500.

After that, the payment amount drops at a rate of $5 for every $100 of additional income earned, meaning individuals earning $87,000 or more won’t be eligible for any payment.

The amounts for qualifying children are also subject to this phase-out, according to two certified public accountants who reviewed the text of the bill. 

Note

Because the checks are smaller in most cases than last time, so is the cutoff. In the first round, individual taxpayers who earned less than $99,000 received a partial payment. 

The new relief bill has made some changes to eligibility, but other elements are the same as they were in the first round:

  • As with the CARES Act, only children under 17 will be eligible for the $600-per-child payment, excluding older high school and college students. This provision left out at least 14 million older children and adult tax dependents the last time around, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
  • The new round of payments will, however, go to families where spouses who file jointly have mixed-immigration status. This is different than the last time, when families were ineligible if one spouse lacked a Social Security number. 
  • The law clarifies that no checks will go to people who died before Jan. 1, 2020, perhaps seeking to avoid replicating a quirk of the first round that resulted in payments being sent to 1.1 million deceased spouses of taxpayers.
  • Taxpayers who are accidentally overpaid by the IRS will not be on the hook for returning the money, while those who are underpaid will receive the difference as a credit at tax time.