December 8, 2021

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Will you get your own third stimulus check? The rules for who qualifies as an adult may change

9 min read


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Find out if you’re eligible to get a stimulus check on your own or if you’re claimed as a dependent.


Angela Lang/CNET

When it comes to stimulus checks, who is qualified to receive a check of their own? The crux of the issue is how the IRS defines an independent person versus a dependent. What makes this more confusing for the third stimulus check qualifications that we know of now, is that the definition of a dependent could be about to change, and open up to include people of any age, as opposed to not just children 16 and under.

While this is undoubtedly welcome news for the families who could stand to benefit from an extra $1,400 per dependent whenever the third stimulus check arrives, it does little to clarify the issue of independence for stimulus checks. A $1,400 bonus to the household is bound to make a mark, but a critical difference is that dependents aren’t able to receive a check of their own.

All of the rules can get complicated, but we’ll explain what happens depending on your situation, including if you’re a student, if you live on your own and are employed, if you’re in the military, if you receive SSI or SSDI, if you’re married or a parent, or if you’re in a child support situation. Some young adults could retroactively get the original stimulus payment of up to $1,200, as well as the second stimulus payment of up to $600 — keep reading for more information. This story was recently updated.

Do I count as an adult or as a dependent to the IRS?

The first stimulus payment sent out under the March CARES Act allocated up to $1,200 for qualifying American adults, and $500 for the dependents listed on their 2019 tax returns — so long as they were age 16 or younger. The second stimulus payment, which the IRS finished sending out Jan. 15 under the $900 billion bill, allocates up to $600 per qualifying American adult and $600 for the dependents listed on their 2019 tax returns who were age 16 or younger at that time. While the amount of money changed from the first check to the second, the rules for who qualifies as a child dependent did not. 

To qualify for your own second stimulus check, you need to have filed your 2019 taxes independently, which means no one else claimed you on their taxes as a dependent. You also had to have an adjusted gross income (AGI) of under $75,000 to receive the full amount. (The sum decreases as your AGI goes up, and this time around, if you make over $87,000 as a single taxpayer, you aren’t eligible for a check.)

There are two different sets of rules for who counts as an adult or a dependent under current tax law, according to Janet Holtzblatt, a senior fellow at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center

One is the support test. If you’re unmarried, you don’t claim children as your own dependents, your parents provide you with financial support equal to or greater than half of your annual income and you made less than $4,200 in 2019, then your parents can still claim you as their dependent. Another is the residency test: If you’re a full-time student under the age of 24 who resides with an adult taxpayer more than half of the year (unless you’re living on a college campus), you can be claimed as a dependent, no matter how much money you make. 

It’s not clear yet which tax return the IRS would use to determine eligibility for a potential third check. It’s possible that, like the CARES Act, it would use whichever it has most recently on file, be that your 2020, 2019 or 2018 return. 


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Why were young adults excluded in the first and second stimulus bills?

People aged 17 through 24 were excluded from the CARES Act and the $900 billion bill because of a tax code definition of “child” that states a “qualifying child … has not attained age 17.” That means even 17- or 18-year-old high school students who clearly lived with a parent or guardian were excluded as dependents and weren’t counted for a $500 or $600 addition to the family check. 

The reason for this age cutoff has to do with the child tax credit, established in 1997, which allows parents to receive up to a $2,000 tax refund for each child under the age of 17 each year they file. We can only speculate as to why this definition wasn’t expanded to include young adults, but the reason is probably the additional cost to the federal government of extending the credit to more people, Holtzer said. 

This group was likely excluded from the second stimulus check to keep costs down. However, Biden’s proposal includes dependents of all ages in a third stimulus check. 

When would a 17- to 24-year-old qualify to receive a second stimulus payment?

It depends. If you became financially independent in 2020, and you file your 2020 tax return in spring 2021 independently, you’ll receive the first stimulus check of up to $1,200 and the second check of up to $600 sometime in 2021 on your tax refund, Holtzer said. All you have to do is file your tax return for 2020 and claim the money as Recovery Rebate Credit, so long as meet the regular eligibility criteria for a stimulus payment. 

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College students under age 24 may still be claimed as dependents by their parents or guardians.


Angela Lang/CNET

If you’re filing taxes independently, the amount of money you would get in a second stimulus payment would depend on your adjusted gross income, which you can also find on your taxes. Check out our story on how to calculate how much money you could get in a second check

But if a parent or guardian claims you as a dependent on their taxes, you won’t get a check of your own. And if you’re in that 17-to-24 age range, you likely won’t get any money allocated toward your family’s payment, either. 

What if you’re claimed as a dependent on someone’s taxes, but you work or attend college? 

Even if you work or go to college full-time (or both), you still count as a dependent if you meet either the support test or the residency test mentioned above. Basically, if you rely on your parents or guardians for more than half of your financial support, if you made less than $4,200 in 2019 or you’re a full-time student under age 24 who resides with a parent or guardian while not in school, or both, you likely still meet the requirements to count as a dependent. 

However, dependents still have to file tax returns, too. Income for dependents falls into two categories: earned income (money earned from working) and unearned income (money earned from investments like the stock market). Those requirements for filing are based on income, so if dependents are receiving either earned or unearned income, they or their parents will need to file a tax return for them.

What if you’re considered an emancipated minor? 

If you’ve been emancipated from your parents by a court or through marriage (state laws apply in both cases), you likely wouldn’t count as anyone’s dependent (assuming you provide more than half of your own financial support and don’t live with your parent or guardian anymore), and would file taxes independently. So you’d be eligible for your own stimulus check if you met the requirements. 

What if you’re currently enlisted in the US armed forces?

If you’re age 17 or older and have enlisted in the US armed forces, you’re considered emancipated from your parents or guardians and would file taxes independently. Therefore, you would be eligible for your own stimulus check if you met the requirements. 

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Would you get your own stimulus check, contribute to the family share or none of the above?


Sarah Tew/CNET

What if you’re under 24 but married or have a child?

If you’re under age 24 but are married or have a child of your own whom you claim as a dependent, you’re considered independent by the IRS. Therefore, you’d be eligible for your own stimulus check if you meet the requirements. 

What if you pay or receive child support?

Typically, the custodial parent is the one who claims the child on their taxes, while the noncustodial parent pays child support. There are some cases where your stimulus check may have been garnished to help pay your child support. If you owe more than $150 in overdue child support (called arrears), your state may reserve the right to garnish some or all of your first stimulus check, based on how much you owe. If you’re owed child support, you may receive money garnished from your child’s other parent, though it may take a while to get to you after it is processed by the state. 

For parents who have joint custody, it’s possible that both could get an extra $500 per child dependent as part of their check. It may be the case again with the $600 per-child payment. Find out everything you need to know about stimulus checks and child support here

What if you’re an SSI or SSDI recipient?

If you’re a young person who is part of the Supplemental Security Income or Social Security Disability Insurance program, things can get complicated when it comes to stimulus payments. Here are three different circumstances people who receive these benefits may face, and how it might work for you, according to Holtzblatt: 

Scenario 1: You are a full-time student and live with your parents for more than half the year (you’re considered to be living at home even if you live in a dorm part of the time). You could be claimed as a dependent by your parents, and therefore would not be eligible for a stimulus payment under the CARES Act. While you would be eligible under the current proposal for a second check, that money allotted to you would still be part of your parents’ payment. 

Scenario 2: You are not a student, but receive more than half of your support/living expenses from your parents or others (like grandparents). If you meet certain other criteria, the person providing support could claim you as a dependent, and therefore you would not be eligible for a stimulus payment under the CARES Act. While you would be eligible under the current proposal for a second check, that money allotted to you would again be part of your parents’ payment. 

Scenario 3: More than half of your support/living expenses are paid by your SSI or SSDI check. As long as you’re not a full-time student or living at home, you cannot be claimed as a dependent, and thus would be eligible for a stimulus payment under the CARES Act. If that was the case for you, you should have received your first check automatically. You would also likely be eligible for a second check that would come directly to you under the current proposal. 

Another question we don’t have the answer to is, how extensive was the IRS’s verification process for eligibility? The agency knew who received Social Security benefits, at least as of a certain date. But we don’t know if the IRS was able to identify who among those people was a dependent of another taxpayer when the payments were distributed, Holtzblatt said. 

Find out more about how SSDI and SSI impact stimulus payments here.

What if the IRS made a mistake?

It happens. At this point, you’ll have to file a claim with the IRS during the upcoming tax season that runs from Feb. 12 through the typical April 15 cutoff. Here’s everything you need to know about the Recovery Rebate Credit you’ll need to claim on your taxes, and, for certain cases, reporting missing money or errors to the IRS

For more information, find out how soon you could expect a third stimulus check, and how much money you and your family could be eligible for with a third check



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