Stimulus checks will be harder to get this time
The COVID rescue bill cleared the Senate at midday on Saturday, but along the way the guidelines on stimulus checks got tinkered with.
The legislation now provides no payments for individuals earning more than $80,000, or married couples who file taxes jointly and have incomes above $160,000. Originally, the income cutoffs for stimulus checks were $100,000 and $200,000, respectively.
Single filers making between $75,000 and $80,000, and couples earning between $150,000 and $160,000 will receive partial payments. Americans with lower incomes will receive the full $1,400 for individuals, $2,800 for joint filers.
Democrats control Congress but hold the slimmest possible majority in the Senate. Democratic leaders proposed the change — and Biden agreed to it — to win the votes of more conservative Democratic senators who wanted the stimulus checks "targeted" toward the neediest Americans struggling with basic expenses.
The first $1,200 checks distributed last spring were mostly spent on basics like food and rent. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found some of the cash also was used for saving and investing, or for other expenses that may have included buying affordable life insurance — demand for those policies has soared amid COVID.
How soon will you get your money?
Republicans have been unified against Biden's relief package, so Democrats are pushing it through Congress using a maneuver that allows the bill to pass with simple majorities. It now faces one more vote, for the House to approve the Senate's changes.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer has tweeted that the final House vote will come on Tuesday. Then, the legislation will be sent to the president's desk, and Biden is expected to sign it promptly.
The president said on Saturday that once that happens, the stimulus checks should begin to flow swiftly: "This plan will get checks out the door, starting this month, to the American people who so desperately need the help."
The last time a pandemic relief bill with stimulus checks was signed, it took the IRS just a couple of days to start distributing the money via direct deposits. But now, the timing may be a little more complicated because the IRS is in the middle of tax season.
Still, if all goes as planned, and if you meet the income requirements, you could have another $1,400 in your bank account before the end of March. You'll wait longer if the tax agency must mail you a paper check or debit card.
What if you'll miss out on the third stimulus check?
Some 17 million fewer Americans will get stimulus checks this time because of the new income thresholds, according to an estimate from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.
If you're likely to miss out — and were counting on getting the $1,400 — here are some ways you might come up with the cash on your own:
Slash the cost of your debt. If you've been relying on credit cards to make ends meet during the pandemic, you're probably piling up costly interest. Make your debt more manageable — and ditch it more quickly — by rolling your balances into a lower-interest debt consolidation loan.
Refinance your mortgage (if you've got one) and reduce your payments. Mortgage rates remain historically low, and refinancing your home loan could reward you with major savings. Millions of homeowners who haven't yet refinanced can still cut hundreds of dollars off their monthly payments by taking out a fresh mortgage at a lower rate.
Shrink your insurance bills. Car insurance companies have been doling out discounts because people have been driving less during the pandemic. If your insurer is being stingy, just shop around for a better deal. And while you’re at it, you could save hundreds each year by comparing rates to find a lower price on homeowners insurance.
Take small money-saving steps that can make a big difference. Call up your cellphone provider and switch to a more budget-friendly package. Turn your hobby or special talent into a side hustle to bring in extra income. And, download a free browser extension that will automatically search for better prices and coupons whenever you shop online.