Will College Students Get a Second Stimulus Check? (Hint: It Depends!)

College students were shut out of the first round of stimulus payments, but they're hoping for a better deal with a second stimulus check.

picture of college student holding money
(Image credit: Getty Images)

A lot of college students (and their parents) were mad as hell back in March when they found out they weren't getting a $1,200 stimulus check. But now there's a second stimulus check of up to $600 on the way to most Americans. But will college students get a check this time around?

The short answer: It depends.

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Dependent College Students Won't Get a Second Stimulus Check

For both the first round of payments authorized by the CARES Act in March and the second round of stimulus checks included in the COVID-Related Tax Relief Act, anyone who could be claimed as a dependent on someone else's 2019 tax return (regardless of whether they're actually claimed as a dependent) isn't eligible for the cash.

Unfortunately, that hits most college students hard. College students who were 23 or younger at the end of 2019 and who didn't pay at least half of their own expenses that year could be claimed as a dependent on their parents' 2019 tax return. So, those students are out of luck when it comes to stimulus checks.

Independent and Older College Students Can Get Stimulus Money

But what about self-supporting college students? If a student paid at least 50% of their own living expenses in 2019, they generally couldn't be claimed as a dependent on their parents' 2019 tax return. Likewise, college students who were 24 years of age or older last year typically couldn't be claimed as a dependent on their parents' latest return. So, despite what they may have heard about college students in general not being eligible for a second stimulus check, self-supporting and older students can receive stimulus money.

Under the COVID-Related Tax Relief Act, these college students are eligible for a second stimulus check of up to $600 ($1,200 in total for married couples). Plus, if they have dependent children, they can get an extra $600 for each qualifying child. That kind of money can buy a lot of textbooks!

Second stimulus checks will be phased-out for people with higher incomes, though. So, the amounts mentioned above can be lower — or even knocked down to zero — for wealthier Americans. Payments will gradually be reduced to zero if for single people with a 2019 adjusted gross income above $75,000. Married couples filing a joint return will start to see their second stimulus check shrink if their AGI exceeded $150,000. (Use our Second Stimulus Check Calculator to see if your payment will be reduced.)

How Eligible College Students Will Receive Their Money

The IRS must send all second stimulus checks (or direct deposit payments) by January 15, 2021, according to the COVID-Related Tax Relief Act. The tax agency will look at your 2019 federal income tax return to get the information it needs to calculate and process your payment.

The problem is that many self-supporting and older college students don't file a tax return, because their income isn't high enough to require one. (For 2019 returns, single people with income below $12,200 and married couples with income under $24,400 weren't required to file.) Eligible college students who didn't file a 2019 tax return might not get a second stimulus check, since the IRS won't have the information it requires to cut a check.

But don't worry too much. Even if you don't get a check now, you won't lose out on the money—you'll just have to wait a little longer for it. If the IRS doesn't send you a second stimulus check by January 15, 2021, you can claim the amount you're owed as a refund or reduction of the tax you owe when you file a 2020 tax return. (You'll have to file your return, or request an extension, by April 15, 2021.)

Recent Grads Could Get $600 Next Year

There's also good news for college students who don't receive a second stimulus check because they were claimed as a dependent on their parents' 2019 tax return, but who can't be claimed as a dependent on their parents' 2020 tax return. (Recent college graduates could fall into this category.) While they won't receive a second stimulus check now, they may still be eligible for an equivalent tax credit when they file their own 2020 tax return next year. So, while they won't get paid in 2020, they'll still benefit from the stimulus check program in 2021.

Rocky Mengle

Rocky Mengle was a Senior Tax Editor for Kiplinger from October 2018 to January 2023 with more than 20 years of experience covering federal and state tax developments. Before coming to Kiplinger, Rocky worked for Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting, and Kleinrock Publishing, where he provided breaking news and guidance for CPAs, tax attorneys, and other tax professionals. He has also been quoted as an expert by USA Today, Forbes, U.S. News & World Report, Reuters, Accounting Today, and other media outlets. Rocky holds a law degree from the University of Connecticut and a B.A. in History from Salisbury University.