What Is a Stimulus Check?

A stimulus check is a check sent to a taxpayer by the U.S. government. Stimulus checks are intended to stimulate the economy by providing consumers with some spending money. Taxpayers receive this money because it’s intended to boost consumption and drive revenue at retailers and manufacturers, spurring the economy.

A stimulus check can be part of a larger federal stimulus package designed to support the economy, which was the case with the stimulus payments that were part of the CARES Act in 2020 and the American Rescue Plan in 2021.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Stimulus checks are checks sent by the U.S. government to taxpayers to boost their spending power and spur economic activity.
  • Stimulus checks are either mailed to taxpayers or an equivalent tax credit is applied to their tax filing.
  • Stimulus checks were used during the Great Recession of 2008.
  • Between March 2020 and March 2021, the U.S. government sent Americans three rounds of stimulus payments to provide relief for economic hardships caused by COVID-19.

Understanding a Stimulus Check

Stimulus checks have been mailed out to U.S. taxpayers on several occasions. These checks vary in amount according to the taxpayer’s filing status. Joint taxpayers generally receive twice as much as those filing singly. In some instances, those who had unpaid back taxes saw their stimulus checks automatically applied to their outstanding balance.

Research posted on the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) found that the means of delivery of fiscal stimulus makes a difference to the overall spending patterns of consumers. Implementing fiscal stimulus by sending checks resulted in an increase in consumer spending activity. However, applying tax credits equal to the amount of money provided in a stimulus check did not result in an equivalent increase in consumer spending activity.1

What do I need to do to get my third stimulus payment?

The IRS started sending third stimulus payments in March 2021 and will continue to as 2020 tax returns are processed.

You can check the status of your payment with the IRS Get My Payment tool.

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How much is the third stimulus check?

Each eligible taxpayer can receive up to $1,400, plus an additional $1,400 per dependent. That means that a family of four with two children could receive $5,600. Remember, just because you are eligible doesn’t mean you are eligible for the full $1,400.

Who is eligible to receive a third stimulus check?

Families earning less than $150,000 a year and individuals earning less than $75,000 a year should have received the full $1,400 per person. Families earning up to $160,000 per year and individuals earning up to $80,000 per year were eligible to receive stimulus checks for a smaller amount. Unlike the previous two rounds, you should have received stimulus payments for all your dependents, including adult dependents and college students.

When will I get my stimulus check?

The IRS started sending the third stimulus payments in March 2021 and will continue to send them on a weekly basis as 2020 tax returns are processed. Payments will be sent to eligible people for whom the IRS did not have information to send a payment but who recently filed a 2020 tax return.

What will COVID-19 mean for my 2021 taxes?

For the latest on the tax implications of the coronavirus pandemic, check out our Stimulus Hub.

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What if I received my stimulus payment on a Turbo® Visa® Debit Card?

If you have your card, you can use it anywhere Visa debit is accepted in the U.S. You can also withdraw your stimulus money at more than 19,000 fee-free ATMs across all 50 states.

You can get a replacement card in 8-10 business days, subject to unexpected COVID-19 delay.

Coronavirus Pandemic

In March 2020, the U.S. government approved a bill to send Americans stimulus payments to provide relief for economic hardships caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Among other provisions, the CARES Act specified tax rebates of $1,200 per adult and $500 per qualifying child. The amount of the rebate phases out for incomes above $75,000 per year for individuals and $150,000 for joint filers.4

The IRS launched a new Get My Payment portal that allows people to check the status of their payment and provide direct deposit information.

The second round of $600 stimulus checks went out in December 2020.5 Then, in March 2021, the American Rescue Plan Act was signed. It included direct stimulus payments of $1,400 to people making $75,000 or less per year.6

Special Considerations

Do stimulus programs work to help pull the economy out of a tailspin? In 2011, The Washington Post reviewed a series of studies that looked at the impact the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009 had on the economy. Out of nine studies, they found that six of them concluded that “the stimulus had a significant, positive effect on employment and growth, and three find that the effect was either quite small or impossible to detect.”

The IRS has issued all first, second and third Economic Impact Payments. You can no longer use the Get My Payment application to check your payment status.

Most eligible people already received their Economic Impact Payments. However, people who are missing stimulus payments should review the information below to determine their eligibility to claim a Recovery Rebate Credit for tax year 2020 or 2021.

Securely access your IRS online account to view the total of your first, second and third Economic Impact Payment amounts under the Tax Records page.

 

Didn’t Get the Full Third Payment? Claim the 2021 Recovery Rebate Credit

You may be eligible to claim a 2021 Recovery Rebate Credit on your 2021 federal tax return.

Individuals can view the total amount of their third Economic Impact Payments through their individual Online Account. Through March 2022, we’ll also send Letter 6475 to the address we have on file for you confirming the total amount of your third Economic Impact Payment and any plus-up payments you received for tax year 2021.

You will need this information from your online account or your letter to accurately calculate your 2021 Recovery Rebate Credit when you file your 2021 federal tax return in 2022. For married filing joint individuals, each spouse will need to log into their own online account or review their own letter for their half of the total payment. All amounts must be considered if filing jointly.

Using the total amount of the third payment from your online account or Letter 6475 when preparing a tax return can reduce errors and avoid delays in processing while the IRS corrects the tax return.

Didn’t Get the Full First and Second Payments? Claim the 2020 Recovery Rebate Credit

You may be eligible to claim the 2020 Recovery Rebate Credit by filing a 2020 tax return.

For the latest updates, check IRS.gov/coronavirus.

Advance Child Tax Credit and Economic Impact Payments – Stimulus Checks

See if you qualified for a stimulus check (Economic Impact Payment) and when and how it was sent. Learn what to do if you were eligible for but did not receive a previous stimulus payment. Or find out about payments from the advance child tax credit and see if you qualify.

COVID-19 Stimulus Checks for Individuals

The IRS issued three Economic Impact Payments during the coronavirus pandemic for people who were eligible:

  • $1,200 in April 2020
  • $600 in December 2020/January 2021
  • $1,400 in March 2021

 

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