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Stimulus Check Update: Third Stimulus Check -- Here's What We Know So Far

The Motley Fool logo The Motley Fool 1/13/2021 Dana George
a close up of a keyboard: Stimulus Check Update: Third Stimulus Check -- Here's What We Know So Far © Provided by The Motley Fool Stimulus Check Update: Third Stimulus Check -- Here's What We Know So Far a close up of a keyboard: A stimulus check from the U.S. Treasury on a computer keyboard. © Getty Images A stimulus check from the U.S. Treasury on a computer keyboard.

Before the most recent stimulus checks for $600 went out the door, there was already a push for the incoming Congress to pass another round. Here's what we know about a third stimulus check.

Proven need

Given the number of struggling Americans, it is difficult to imagine a scenario in which another round of stimulus checks is not sent. According to Earnin, a financial services app, it took the neediest Americans only one week to spend the initial $1,200 checks received last spring. When paying for food and medicine is an issue, $1,200 does not last for long.

Political promise

When President-elect Joe Biden learned that Congress had agreed to $600 checks, he called it a "down payment" on the money needed. Biden later sent out a tweet saying, "$600 is simply not enough when you have to choose between paying rent or putting food on the table. We need $2,000 stimulus checks."

While campaigning for Democrats in the Georgia Senate run-off, Biden said the election of Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff would not only give the Democrats the majority vote in the Senate, it would also allow Congress to get $2,000 checks "out the door immediately, to help people who are in real trouble."

Potential compromise

The CARES Act, signed into law on March 27, 2020, allowed for a maximum of $1,200 per eligible adult. The recent stimulus passed in late December, called the COVID-Related Tax Relief Act, cut that amount down to $600. Because the $600 checks have either been deposited into bank accounts or are on their way, there's a fair chance that Republican (and some Democratic) members of Congress will balk at the idea of sending another $2,000. Instead, they may want to use the $600 as a true down payment and vote to make the third-round payments $1,400. In short, they will argue that combining the current $600 checks with $1,400 checks will equal the $2,000 the House of Representatives has been asking for.

Families with children

Checks sent through the CARES Act allowed $500 for each dependent child 16 years or younger. The latest round of payments increased the amount to $600. It is possible that the next round of payments will include a different amount. In two different bills passed by the House (The CASH Act and The HEROES Act), dependents would have received far more than $600 ($2,000 and $1,200, respectively). While it's doubtful that the next round of checks will allow such high amounts for dependents, it will not be surprising if Congress increases the amount some.

There was also a huge hole in the first two bills regarding dependents. Millions of families with dependent children ages 17 to 24 received nothing for those kids. It is likely that will change with a third round of checks.

New income limits?

When Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a Democrat, recently suggested that he would not support another round of stimulus checks unless they were more "targeted," what he was saying is that he's worried about the number of Americans receiving checks who may not need them and are tucking them away in a savings account or investment account.

While it's yet to be seen if any other Democrats will threaten to vote against another stimulus bill for the same reason, it's reasonable to believe that income limits may be reexamined.

For the first two rounds, single Americans with an adjusted gross income (AGI) on their 2019 tax return of $75,000 or less, married couples with an AGI of $150,000 or less, and those who filed as head of household with an AGI of $112,500 or less received a full check. Payments were reduced for those earning more. If there is a true concern that those earning more did not need the money (even if they've lost their jobs since 2019 taxes were filed), it is possible the limits will be reset.

Choose your own tax year?

Joe Biden will become the 46th president of the United States on Jan. 20. Even if Congress begins debate on the third round of stimulus checks the next day, it will take time to get a bill through both the House and Senate. By the time it reaches the new president's desk, it could be weeks. Realistically, we're looking at late February or early March for the distribution of another round of checks. What that means is that millions of people will have already filed their 2020 taxes by the time the IRS begins to check qualifying incomes.

While we're not sure which year tax return the IRS will use, it's safe to assume that they will look for the last return filed. Taxpayers who earned less in 2019 than in 2020 might want to hold off filing until the next round of checks are sent. Those who earned less in 2020, might want to file quickly so that the IRS has their most recent AGI.

Few things in life are certain, particularly when Congress is involved. The next few weeks will offer a clearer picture of what we can expect from a third round of stimulus checks.

In the meantime, if COVID-19 has you on the financial ropes, there are resources available to help.

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