The new stimulus checks head to another major vote

View of United States Capital
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The COVID rescue bill passed the U.S. House early on Saturday. Schumer says his chamber will take up the legislation this week.

In a Senate floor speech on Monday, he said the stimulus checks will help "millions of Americans struggling — struggling — with the cost of rent, groceries, medicine, and utilities."

That was largely the case with the two earlier rounds of payments. The first $1,200 checks distributed last spring were mostly spent on household expenses like food and rent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has said.

With those needs met, others used some of the cash for saving and investing, a bureau survey found, or for other expenses that may have included buying affordable life insurance — demand for those policies has seen a surge amid COVID.

Among many other things, the relief package includes more funding for vaccines, money to reopen schools, and $400 a week in extra benefits for unemployed Americans. Democrats are trying to complete a bill for Biden to sign before the current, $300-a-week federal jobless benefits run out on March 14.

How soon will you get your money?

Senate Democratic leaders aim to save time by not putting the bill before various committees and sending it directly to a vote by the full Senate. But there might be some bumps in the road.

The bill may not draw any support from Senate Republicans, who say it's too expensive. In the House, all Republicans voted no. Democrats hold the Senate by the thinnest of majorities and could have to make revisions to keep all of their troops in line.

A couple of Democrats objected to a controversial provision to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, but it has been dropped from the legislation in the Senate, according to multiple media outlets. Meanwhile, at least one Democratic senator has supported lowering the income limits for the stimulus checks.

The previous two batches provided full payments to individuals earning up to $75,000 a year, and the current plan is to keep Round 3 the same. But if the Senate wants to "target" the new checks to lower-income Americans, Biden would be OK with that, his press secretary indicated on Sunday.

If Democrats are able to hold together and make their pre-March 14 deadline, and if Biden signs the bill immediately, the IRS could start distributing stimulus checks within days. Which means you could receive your payment as soon as the second half of March.

What if you need money right away?

Senior man is standing in the kitchen of his home with bills in one hand and a cup of tea in the other. He has a worried expression on his face.
DGLimages / Shutterstock

That means the new relief is still at least several weeks away. If you can't wait and need more money right now, here are a few ways you might find a little extra cash:

  • Cut the cost of your debt. If your plastic has been carrying you through the pandemic, you’re probably piling up costly interest. Make your debt more manageable — and shake it off more quickly — by folding your balances into a single debt consolidation loan at lower interest.

  • Shrink your insurance bills. Car insurance companies have been offering customers discounts as everyone has been driving way less because of COVID. If yours isn’t willing to negotiate, why not shop around for a better deal? And while you’re at it, you could save hundreds by comparing rates to find a lower price on homeowners insurance.

  • Refinance your mortgage (if you've got one) and slash your payments. If you haven’t looked around for a lower rate on your home loan in the last year, there’s no better time than now. Refinancing your existing mortgage could reap big savings. Millions of homeowners could reduce their monthly house payments by around $300 through a refi, the mortgage tech and data provider Black Knight said in early February.

What if you won’t get a stimulus check this time?

As things stand now, the income limits on the stimulus checks will be the same as before — meaning if you got a full payment last time, you'll get one again.

But if it looks like you won't receive a full $1,400 check — or get any payment at all — there are a couple of things you can do:

  • File your 2020 taxes ASAP. You could still qualify for a stimulus check if your income dropped in 2020 because of the pandemic. You’ll want to get that information in front of the tax agency ASAP, because it will base your eligibility on your most recent tax return. Log into a good tax software product and submit your 2020 return immediately.

  • Trim your budget and "make your own" stimulus check. By finding a few creative ways to cut back, you might squeeze $1,400 out of your current budget. 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 scour for better prices and coupons whenever you shop online.

About the Author

Sigrid Forberg

Sigrid Forberg

Staff Writer

Sigrid is a staff writer with MoneyWise. A graduate of Carleton University's journalism program, she spent the better part of the last six years writing about business and retail. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, baking and riding her bicycle.

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