March 11, 2021

Stimulus checks to start arriving this weekend: 7 things you need to know


The IRS and Treasury will begin processing and sending the $1,400 stimulus checks as soon as this weekend. But not everyone may get all their money immediately.

Things are moving quickly for the $1,400 stimulus checks. President Joe Biden signed the $1.9 trillion stimulus bill Thursday, a day earlier than expected. Shortly after, the White House laid out an accelerated timeline to get the new stimulus payments out the door.

“People can expect to start seeing direct deposits hit their bank accounts as early as this weekend. This is, of course, just the first wave,” Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday. “Payments to eligible Americans will continue throughout the course of the next several weeks.” But with third stimulus checks going out to over 100 million people (the second checks were sent to more than 147 million people), delivering the new checks may not prove to be that simple for everyone. 

For example, with tax returns due April 15, the IRS will have to process new payments using either 2019 or 2020 taxes (here’s why it matters). There’s also the matter of how long it takes to actually send your payment. If the IRS switches your payment group around, would you get your stimulus money sooner, or be part of a later wave? What if a rule change means your check winds up being garnished? We’ll walk you through what we know. This story was updated with new information.

This weekend’s stimulus check arrival window is just a start

Tens of millions of direct deposit recipients could receive their money this weekend, but the White House has acknowledged that this is a first wave, and the effort to send all the checks will take weeks. People who receive their payment as physical checks and EIP cards should expect for the IRS to process their checks after the direct deposit folks, and the stimulus money could take weeks to actually arrive. 

Any additional complications could also delay your payment. The schedule below reflects our best guesses, based on the IRS’ timeline for the previous $600 stimulus check. The timeline isn’t final, and we’ll continue to update with information as we learn more.

Stimulus check: Potential delivery dates (these could change)

Stimulus bill passed CongressMarch 10
Stimulus bill signed into lawMarch 11
First direct deposit sentMarch 13 or 14
First paper checks sentWeek of March 22
First EIP cards sentWeek of March 29
IRS deadline to finish sending checksDec. 31, 2021
Last date to receive a checkJanuary 2022 (if checks sent late December)
Claims for missing stimulus money open2021 Tax Season likely (in 2022)

Your stimulus check could arrive weeks after the first delivery date

What we learned from the first two checks is that how you get your stimulus money often dictates when you get it. Roughly, this is broken into three groups:

  • Direct-deposit recipients: Typically got their stimulus money in the first wave. But both times there were issues involving deposits going to temporary accounts that were rejected by banks. In some cases, these people got paper checks or EIP cards instead, or had to wait for the issue to resolve.
  • Paper checks: This is the payment type the IRS sent out second. This method can take weeks to arrive by mail, but the check can be deposited or cashed right away.
  • EIP cards: This payment type arrives as a prepaid debit card you must activate online to use. The IRS issued EIP cards last, delaying receipt for this recipient group by weeks.

Remember, it takes time for the IRS to process the well over 100 million payments expected in this third round of checks. Even tiny errors could cause a delay in you receiving your full or partial payment. (Here’s more information for SSDI and SSI recipients, and other nonfilers.)

The IRS could switch your payment group… again

Just because you got your check through direct deposit the first two times doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get it that way again. A lot depends on delivery going smoothly, and on any processing issues the IRS or Treasury could encounter with your case. (See below for tips on how you could speed up delivery.)

With the second stimulus checks, the IRS told CNET in January that some people who received a physical check or EIP card the first time may have been paid by the other method the second time around. And, anecdotally, we learned of people who received direct deposit payments the first time finally getting an EIP card in the mail — and not an electronic bank transfer — weeks after the IRS tool said the payment was issued. 

The other payment groups 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 that could lead to potential issues or holdups receiving their money. People in different child support situations are one example we’ve seen, as are people who are incarcerated and people with complex citizenship scenarios.

There are nearly 300 days to receive your check before the new cutoff

The IRS and Treasury have until Dec. 31 to complete sending out the third stimulus checks. That’s good news in the sense that it’s a far cry from the 17-day window back the agencies had from the December stimulus bill. On the other hand, it also means some people may find themselves waiting, for any reason. 

There’s still so much we don’t know about how the IRS will juggle tax season and processing the new checks, and how the agency will deal with any fringe issues that arise. 

How you get your second stimulus check could influence how soon your payment arrives.Sarah Tew/CNET

Stimulus checks will be based on whichever tax return the IRS has processed

Taxes are due April 15, and although IRS has been lobbied to extend the tax due date, that doesn’t appear likely this year. So how will the IRS figure out how much it owes you? It will calculate your total (you can also do that here) based on the most recent tax filing it’s processed by the time it’s ready to tabulate your check.

That means if you filed your 2020 taxes early, but the IRS mostly stops what it’s doing to process stimulus checks, your total might come out based on 2019’s adjusted gross income, not 2020’s, as intended. That presents complications if the difference between the two years disqualifies you from getting a third stimulus check. (Learn more about some of the stimulus check exceptions and catches here.)

If you get a partial check, you’ll have to wait for the rest. It could take awhile

There are several reason the IRS could owe you stimulus money for the third round of checks. Maybe the agency processed your 2019 tax return instead of 2020 and there was a discrepancy. Or you had a baby in 2020 you still need to claim. Or a clerical error accidentally leaves out a new dependent. Maybe your payment never arrives or was accidentally garnished. 

Whatever the reason, the IRS may provide a way to file for missing stimulus money before the Dec. 31 deadline. If not, you might have to wait a year to claim it, until you file your 2021 taxes in 2022 (even if you’re a nonfiler who isn’t typically required to file taxes).

The first two stimulus checks were nominally sorted by different payment groups, and one had a clear advantage over the others.Sarah Tew/CNET

You may be able to avoid a delay by doing these things now

While you won’t have the final say, there may be a few things you can do to help speed up receipt of a third payment. For example, we recommend signing up for direct deposit with the IRS when you submit your 2020 tax return, if you ordinarily file taxes. 

If you already have an account, make sure your details are correct. We also suggest you try to file your taxes quickly. While you can file an extension to submit your taxes later (you’d still have to pay taxes owed now) whether that will help or hurt you may get a little complicated.

If you’ve moved recently, tell the IRS and USPS. Here are our other suggestions for how people can make it more likely they’ll get their checks faster. Note that there could be some changes to qualifications that may not apply to a possible third stimulus check.

There are more stimulus check details and exceptions for these groups

Stimulus checks aren’t necessarily a one-size-fits-all situation for these groups:

  • Older adults, people who are retired and veterans
  • People who receive SSI or SSDI
  • Other tax nonfilers
  • Families with mixed-status citizenship
  • Households with dependents, or people trying to understand if they’d receive their own check
  • Families with child support situations

Here’s everything you need to know about the third stimulus check, how to calculate your stimulus total and every other way the stimulus bill can bring you more money.

By Jessica Dolcour

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