Where's my stimulus check? Answers to common questions

The U.S. government has distributed about 130 million economic impact payments to taxpayers in less than 30 days. The IRS anticipates sending more than 150 million payments as part of a massive rescue package to help consumers weather the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

The distribution has had some hiccups, including an overwhelmed website, payments to deceased taxpayers and money sent to inactive accounts. Some taxpayers eagerly awaiting their checks have been confused by “Payment status not available” messages from the IRS website set up to help consumers track their payments. 

Some taxpayers who are still awaiting their checks may be uncertain about what’s causing the hold up. At the same time, getting help from the IRS is proving fruitless because the agency’s phone assistance is shut down due to the pandemic. 

The IRS and Treasury created the tracking website and began disbursing the “economic impact payments” less than three weeks after the $2 trillion stimulus bill was signed into law by President Donald Trump. Yet during that time, 30 million workers have filed for unemployment benefits, heightening the need for the payments.

For those still waiting or with other questions, here are a few answers:

Where is my payment?

The government can’t logistically or physically make all the payments at once, so it’s doing so in steps.

For those with direct deposit information on file with the IRS, based 2019 or 2018 tax return, payments began going out on April 10.

Payments started going out last week to Social Security beneficiaries, railroad retirees and veterans who aren’t required to file a tax return; these will continue through May. Individuals in this group will get their relief by the same method they receive their other benefits, be that direct deposit or mail.

Others who are not required to file tax returns, such as low-income individuals, were encouraged to file basic information on the IRS website. Without this information, the government cannot issue a payment.

Anyone who is eligible but does not have direct deposit information on file will be mailed a check. Those began to go out in late April, but that process might take several months because of distribution limitations.

All payments were prioritized in order from lowest income to highest income.

So, first make sure you’re eligible for a payment. Any U.S. citizen with a Social Security number who makes up to $75,000 will get a payment of $1,200; married couples who file jointly and earn less than $150,000 will get $2,400. The payment steadily declines for those who make more, and phases out for those who earn more than $99,000; or $198,000 for married couples. The thresholds are different for those who file as head of household.

If you qualify, make sure the IRS has the current and necessary information. The IRS has a Get My Payment tool on its website for people to add their direct deposit information or track the status of their payment.

Why won’t “Get My Payment” work for me?

The IRS has fixed some glitches with Get My Payment since the rollout. The experience may still not be perfect.

Some taxpayers say they still cannot get past the first step of entering their basic information — name, address and adjusted gross income. The information entered must exactly match that on tax returns. Look closely for minor differences, such as spelling out Street instead of abbreviating it.

Several users said they had success with putting the address in all caps, as suggested by the LA Times. The IRS says, however, that the entry line is not case sensitive. It did say removing all punctuation may help.

If these fail, consider using 2018 tax return data.

A word of warning: Three unsuccessful attempts to log on in one day will leave a user locked out for 24 hours as a security precaution.

Why am I getting error messages on “Get My Payment”?

The “Payment Status Not Available” response has vexed many users.

It means the IRS cannot determine your eligibility right now. There are a few reasons for this. First, you didn’t file a 2018 or 2019 return, or it hasn’t been fully processed. Or the site simply doesn’t have the information available yet; the agency is adding more data for use every day. It updates the information overnight daily.

My deceased relative got a payment. Do I have to repay it?

It’s unclear.

President Donald Trump and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have said that these payments should be returned to the government. However, the IRS has yet to issue formal guidance, saying it’s aware of the problem and working to resolve it. Experts say because of a lag in reporting data on who is deceased, the error is almost inevitable and has occurred with past stimulus payments as well.

I didn’t get a payment for my child. Why?

Parents can also get a payment of $500 for each child, but the money only applies to eligible children, generally those 16 and under. You might not get the payment if someone else can claim them as a dependent or if they’re not reflected on your most recent tax return, such as a newborn child.

People who receive Supplemental Security Income or Department of Veterans Affairs benefits also don’t automatically get payments for dependents. They must add that information on the IRS website by Tuesday to get payment.

If you did not receive the full amount to which you believe you’re entitled, for a child or otherwise, you’ll be able to claim the additional amount on your 2020 tax return.

I don’t use (or don’t recognize) the bank account my payment went to. What now?

If the account is closed or no longer active, the bank will reject the deposit and mail a check instead. It will go either to the address listed on your tax returns or the one on file with the U.S. Postal Service, whichever is most current.

This is a common problem for people who got a refund anticipation loan, refund anticipation check or had their refund loaded onto a prepaid debit card. In these cases, the relief payment may have been directed to the real or virtual account associated with the product. But again, if the account is closed or inactive, it will be rejected and a check will be mailed.

The IRS has corrected an earlier online error, which told users that some rejected payments were being sent to the same account a second time; they are not and will be mailed.

What if I have issues with my payment?

The IRS will send a letter to taxpayers about 15 days after a payment is sent letting them know how it was made and how to report issues.

It also has many answers online and is updating its site regularly.

If you still need a real person, you’ll have to wait. The IRS had been unable to staff its telephone lines because of the pandemic. Employees only began to return to the agency last week and it’s unclear when many services will be back up.

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