Americans say they'll be more willing to spend money this holiday season if the government provides a second round of $1,200 COVID relief payments. You know, "stimulus checks."
On Monday, more than 125 economists wrote an open letter calling for more direct payments to help families cope with the pandemic. Can Washington come through with cash in time for Christmas?
Congressional leaders, President-elect Joe Biden (pictured), departing President Donald Trump and officials in his administration all say they'd like to see a new aid bill come together quickly. But the various parties are far apart on the details.
Here's what we know right now about the chances you'll get another stimulus check in the coming weeks.
Americans are eager for more relief
A recent Franklin Templeton-Gallup survey found 16% of Americans plan to spend more on holiday gifts this year — but that jumps to 22% if the government comes through with more $1,200 relief payments.
Meanwhile, 37% are planning to spend less this holiday season, but that drops to 30% if consumers receive second stimulus checks.
"Congress must now do a Covid Relief Bill," Trump tweeted earlier this month. "Needs Democrats support. Make it big and focused. Get it done!"
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin told CNBC on Friday that Republicans want to sit down soon with members of the opposing party to draft a bill "for the people that really need it." Mnuchin negotiated nearly nonstop with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi before the election, but they couldn't reach a deal.
The White House's previous proposals called for more stimulus checks. Aid measures supported by Democrats also have included additional direct payments to Americans.
The scores of economists who signed Monday's letter say stimulus checks "are one of the quickest, most equitable and most effective ways to get families and the economy back on track."
What's the possible timing for 2nd checks?
It's been more than seven months since the IRS started distributing the initial round of aid money for Americans. A survey from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that close to 60% of Americans used their first stimulus checks to pay for basic expenses like groceries and utilities.
Some also invested the cash or found other, unspecified purposes for the money. Those may have included buying affordable life insurance; sales of life insurance policies have surged this year in the shadow of the pandemic.
But the two major political parties have disagreed on a number of issues regarding the next aid package, beginning with its size and scope. Biden and other Democrats think the government should spend at least $2.2 trillion; Republicans favor a price tag as low as $500 billion.
The president-elect is pushing for a quick deal to keep the COVID recession from worsening, though he has said Republicans may be more willing to compromise once Trump is out of the White House.
If a breakthrough can come quickly after Congress' Thanksgiving break — and if it includes new direct payments — Americans could start receiving money by late December, based on how fast the cash started flowing the first time.
But if the negotiations fail again, a deal might have to wait for the new Congress and new administration in January — meaning no stimulus checks before February.
What to do while you wait
If you can’t wait until next month or later to maybe get another infusion of government money into your bank account, here are some ideas for how you can find an extra $1,200 on your own.
Pull back on your spending. Get rid of any subscription services you don’t use. Cook more of your own meals and stop ordering delivery so much. And download a free price-checking browser extension that will save you money every time you shop online.
Get a grip on your debt. If you’ve been overrelying on your credit cards during the pandemic, you’re likely racking up a ton of interest. You may be able to stop adding to your debt — and make it go away sooner — by rolling your balances into a single debt consolidation loan at a lower interest rate.
Mow down your insurance costs. Americans have reduced their driving this year, and as a result, many car insurance companies have lowered their rates. If your insurer won’t cut you a break, it’s time to start shopping around for a better option. You might also be able to save on your homeowners insurance, by comparing quotes from multiple companies.
Refinance your mortgage. Mortgage rates are lower than ever right now, and refinancing your current loan could save you a lot of money. According to the mortgage technology and data provider Black Knight, 19.4 million U.S. homeowners could bring down their payments by an average $309 per month through a refi.