If you claimed dependents on your 2019 tax return, you should have received at least $500 in the first round of stimulus checks.

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How you define someone who’s your dependent may not be the same as the IRS and that could make a difference of $500 on your next stimulus check (if it happens), or even more. 

The first stimulus payment started with a total of $1,200 maximum per adult, with $500 per “dependent,” basing their definition on tax law, but with omissions and exceptions that didn’t make a whole lot of sense to a lot of people and left millions of people cut out from receiving a check. 

Now, if another relief bill expands it qualifications and passes by the end of the year, it could mean receiving more than $1,200 through check, direct deposit or Economic Impact Payment debit card. We’ll take you through the legal definition and explain how your dependents could help influence your federal tax return and your next stimulus payment, if there is one. (And here’s how to claim $500 the IRS missed for your dependents by filing for a catch-up payment.)

Who is a dependent, according to the government?

In terms of tax law, a dependent can fall into two categories: a qualifying child or a qualifying relative. They don’t need to be children, or to be directly related to you, but they do have to meet certain requirements from the IRS. 

To claim a qualifying child as your dependent on your taxes, they must be either younger than 19 years old, or be a student younger than 24 years old at the end of the calendar year. However, if your child is what the IRS calls “permanently and totally disabled,” you can claim them as a dependent no matter their age. 

To claim a qualifying relative, be it a child or an adult, as a dependent, they must meet other criteria from the IRS. This might include an elderly relative who relies on your for care.

Even if a dependent was claimed on your tax return, they may not have been eligible to receive money from the first round of stimulus checks due to the requirements of the CARES Act. However, it’s likely that some requirements will change if another bill is passed.

Where do I find the total of dependents I listed on my tax return? 

If you filed taxes in 2018 or later, you’ll find your dependents listed on form 1040, US Individual Income Tax Return. In the middle of the first page, you’ll see a box labeled Dependents. Your dependents, along with their social security number, relationship to you, and whether they qualify for a child tax credit or credit for other dependents will be listed there. 


Find your dependent on your 2019 tax form 1040.


What’s the most I could get for my dependents if a second stimulus payment is approved? 

The first stimulus payment under the bipartisan CARES Act passed in March included $500 for dependents aged 16 and younger. There was no limit to the number of children who could count as dependents, as long as they were 16 or younger and claimed by the taxpayer on their tax return, according to the Tax Foundation. 

Because another stimulus package has yet to be passed, we don’t know exactly how much money would be allotted for dependents. Under the Republican-backed HEALS Act, you’d get $500 per dependent, with no cap on the number of dependents who could receive that money. Under the Democratic-backed Heroes Act, you’d get $1,200 per dependent, for up to three people. Both bills would provide these payments for dependents regardless of age, including college students and adult dependents, including potentially elderly relatives who rely on you for care. 

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

What if I have more dependents today than I did with my last tax return? 

If a child was born or adopted into your family in 2020 and therefore not listed on your 2019 tax return that you filed this year, you can claim them on your 2020 tax return to get the $500 dependent stimulus payment from the CARES Act sometime in 2021. This would likely be the case should a second stimulus check be approved as well. 

You can also find out if you can claim a child or another relative as your dependent on your taxes with this tool from the IRS

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How does it work if I’m divorced or legally separated from my spouse, and sharing custody of a dependent? 

A child can only be claimed as a dependent for one taxpayer for a tax year. Typically, the child counts as the dependent of the custodial parent — the parent who the child lived with for the longer period of time during the year, even if financial support came from the other parent. However, this is not always the case. Find out more from the IRS here.

What if my spouse and I share a child, but we file taxes separately? 

In this case, a child can still only be claimed as a dependent on one return in a tax year. To find out who should claim the child on their return, check out the IRS information on Qualifying Child of More Than One Person.

What if my dependent passes away?

If a dependent was listed on your last tax return but has since passed away, it’s likely that you were still sent the extra $500, and that they would be included in a second stimulus payment. However, a payment made to someone who died before they received it should be returned to the IRS. You also cannot claim a stillborn child as a dependent, according to the IRS. 

For more, find out if you’re qualified for a second stimulus check and when you can expect a second stimulus check. If you still haven’t gotten a first stimulus check, you can track the status of your stimulus check, learn how to report your missing check to the IRS and find possible reasons why your stimulus check still hasn’t arrived

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