Direct payments to low- and middle-income Americans were a hallmark of the emergency coronavirus stimulus measures passed by Congress in 2020 and 2021. Tens of millions of households qualified for one, two, or all three rounds of stimulus checks, known as Economic Impact Payments (EIPs).
The third round of stimulus payments — the largest to date — is on its way to recipients’ bank accounts and mailboxes right now. But before you start daydreaming about what you’ll do with your impact payment, you’ll want to make sure it arrives on schedule.
And if it doesn’t? You’ve got options — even if you’re still waiting on your first or second stimulus check and haven’t gotten around to calling the IRS about it.
Read on to learn what to do about late or missing pandemic stimulus payments.
What to Do If You Didn’t Receive Your Pandemic Stimulus Payment on Time
If you’re still waiting on your share of the most recent round of stimulus payments, there’s still time to ensure you receive a direct cash infusion from the Treasury Department. If you meet the current Economic Impact Payment eligibility requirements, that is.
Follow these steps to troubleshoot your late stimulus money payment.
1. Confirm That You’re Actually Eligible to Receive a Stimulus Check
First, confirm that you’re actually eligible for the EIP you’re missing. Each stimulus round had different eligibility criteria for individuals, married couples, dependents, and noncitizens.
First Stimulus Check
The full amount of the first stimulus check was $1,200 per qualifying adult and $500 per qualifying child dependent.
The upper adjusted gross income (AGI) cutoffs to receive the full amount — based on 2018 or 2019 AGI, depending on whether the recipient had filed 2019 taxes when payments were calculated — were as follows:
- $75,000 for single filers (including married taxpayers filing separate tax returns)
- $112,500 for head-of-household filers (most often single parents)
- $150,000 for married couples and other joint filers
Above these limits, taxpayers whose adjusted gross incomes fell within the phaseout zones received partial stimulus payments.
These payments shrank steadily as their incomes rose toward the final phaseout caps — $98,000 for single filers and $198,000 for married filers with no dependents, respectively — then phased out completely above those limits.
Each qualifying dependent increased the phaseout cap by $10,000. Eligible adults within the individual or joint phaseout zones (below $98,000 and $198,000, respectively) received the full payment ($500) for each eligible dependent.
Those in the dependent phaseout zones received partial payments that depended on AGI and the number of qualifying dependents.
Second Stimulus Check
The full amount of the second stimulus check was $600 per qualifying adult and $600 per qualifying minor dependent.
The eligibility limits for full stimulus were the same as the first round: $75,000 for single filers, $112,500 for head-of-household filers, and $150,000 for joint filers.
Because the checks were smaller, the phaseout zones were narrower and the final phaseout limits were lower: $87,000 for single filers and $174,000 for joint filers. For most recipients, eligibility was based on 2019 AGI.
Third Stimulus Check
The third round of stimulus payments was the most generous yet.
The full amount of the third stimulus check was $1,400 per qualifying adult and $1,400 per qualifying dependent, including minor and adult dependents. Eligibility was based on the recipient’s most recent AGI on file — either 2019 or 2020.
The eligibility limits for full payment were $75,000 for single filers, $112,500 for head of household filers, and $150,000 for joint filers.
However, the phaseout zones were much narrower: Single filers with more than $80,000 in 2019 or 2020 income and couples with more than $160,000 in 2019 or 2020 income were not eligible for any payment.
Phaseouts for dependent payments were even stricter, with no payments at all to recipients earning above the cutoff for full payment to the taxpayer ($75,000, $112,500, or $150,000, depending on filing status).
2. Use the IRS Economic Impact Payment Status Lookup Tool (Get My Payment)
After determining that you’re stimulus-eligible, use the Internal Revenue Service’s Get My Payment tool to check the status of your payment. Enter your Social Security number, date of birth, and address to find out the date and method of payment.
You won’t see the exact amount of your third stimulus payment here, but you can click through to another screen to get that information. If you wish to take this step, you’ll need to provide additional details to verify your identity.
3. Confirm the IRS Has the Correct Direct Deposit Bank Account and Mailing Address
If the IRS sent or is planning to send your payment by direct deposit, you’ll see the last four digits of the account number. Check this against your own bank account information.
If you’re slated to receive a paper check or mailed debit card (more common for second stimulus recipients), you should receive it at the address on file within one to two weeks of mailing.
Should your current bank account not match what the IRS has on file, follow the agency’s instructions to update your direct deposit information. To update your mailing address, follow the IRS’s change of address instructions.
4. File Your Tax Return As You Normally Would — Unless Your Income Increased in 2020
Not all stimulus-eligible Americans are required to file federal income tax returns under normal circumstances.
For example, those for whom Social Security Disability Insurance benefits account for most or all income, and those with no or very low income generally aren’t expected to file.
However, the IRS may require stimulus-eligible Americans to file information tax returns that confirm their identity, income, and residence. If you’re not required to file income taxes and didn’t file an information tax return in 2019 or 2020, file an information return as soon as you can.
If your income is high enough that you must file a federal income tax return, you’ll need to file a return for the 2020 tax year before the final mid-October deadline (if you applied for an extension of time to file).
Depending on your income, you may qualify to file for free with an IRS Free File Alliance partner or a free tax preparation software provider like H&R Block.
Whether you should file as soon as possible or wait depends on how your income changed in 2020. If your income decreased significantly, you’ll want to file immediately because you could be entitled to a bigger stimulus payment than your 2019 income allows.
However, if you don’t file in time, you may be eligible to claim the difference between your actual stimulus payment and the higher amount you would have been entitled to (based on 2020 income) on your 2021 return.
If your income increased above the third stimulus income limit in 2020, you should hold off until receiving your check to ensure you remain eligible. The IRS won’t claw back your payment based on your 2020 income if you file after receiving your payment.
Remember that the IRS uses the most recent income information available when determining stimulus check eligibility. If your income decreased significantly in 2020 and that decrease would make you eligible for a stimulus check (or a larger check if you were already eligible), you should file your income tax return as soon as possible.
5. Request a Tax Credit or IRS Payment Trace
If you’re quite sure the first or second stimulus payment for which you were eligible never arrived or you received only a partial payment, you can claim a tax credit — the Recovery Rebate Credit — for the full amount of either or both on your 2020 tax return.
Follow IRS instructions for claiming the credit on Form 1040 or Form 1040-SR or use an online tax prep program that automatically figures your eligibility for the credit using the IRS worksheet.
If your third stimulus check is late and you’ve received a letter in the mail (IRS Notice 1444) advising you that it has been disbursed, you can request an IRS payment trace to try to find the missing payment. Wait five days from the direct deposit date and four weeks from the check mailing date to initiate your request.
You can call the IRS at 800-919-9835 to request a trace by phone or mail completed Form 3911 to the IRS processing center corresponding with your home address. Payment traces typically take six weeks to complete.
A payment trace request will cancel your original stimulus check or debit card or reverse your direct deposit payment, so only request it if you’re sure the payment isn’t coming.
If you file your tax return before the trace is complete, don’t include the amount of your Recovery Rebate Credit (that is, the missing stimulus money) on your return.
If the payment trace determines that you’re eligible for missing funds, the IRS will adjust your tax balance with no action needed from you.
Common Questions and Answers About Late and Missing Stimulus Checks
The first stimulus checks went out in the second quarter of 2020. The second stimulus payment hit bank accounts and mailboxes in the first weeks of 2021. The third arrived a few weeks later, in March of 2021.
If you’ve yet to receive any of these payments, any number of issues could be in play. Use these common stimulus payment questions and answers to assess your situation and determine how best to follow up with the IRS.
Am I Automatically Eligible for the Third Round of Stimulus Payments If I Received a Check in the First or Second Round?
No. Because stimulus eligibility was different for each round of payments, it’s possible that you were eligible for some but not all rounds.
For example, if you’re a single filer with no dependents whose 2019 income was higher than $87,000, you likely were not eligible for the second or third round of payments.
Will Filing My 2020 Tax Return Speed Up My Third Stimulus Check?
Possibly. If the IRS does not have a current direct deposit account or mailing address information for you, you may receive a direct deposit or paper check if you file your 2020 tax return promptly.
The IRS does allow taxpayers to claim the amount of a missing first or second stimulus payment (or both) as a tax credit (the Recovery Rebate Credit) on their 2020 federal tax return, which must be filed by Oct. 15, 2021 (assuming an extension of time to file).
The IRS will also allow taxpayers who did not receive their third stimulus payment to claim a similar tax credit on their 2021 tax return, which must be filed by April 15, 2022.
Can My Stimulus Check Be Garnished?
As it currently stands, federal law permits the IRS to garnish the third round of stimulus payments to cover private debts, such as civil judgments.
However, your third check can’t be garnished to pay past-due tax debts or other government debts, such as child support.
Congress is working to pass legislation to fix this loophole and prevent garnishments for private debt, but there’s no guarantee this will occur before your payment goes out.
What Should I Do If I Receive a Letter Notifying Me of My Stimulus Payment But Haven’t Yet Received a Check or Direct Deposit?
The IRS sends out Notice 1444 to stimulus payment recipients approximately 15 days after disbursing the payment. By this point, recipients should have their funds in hand.
If you receive Notice 1444 but have not yet received your stimulus payment, you should contact the IRS to request a payment trace. Call the agency at 800-919-9835 or mail Form 3911 to the appropriate IRS address — which varies based on where you live — to begin.
What Happens If My Paper Check or Debit Card Is Lost in the Mail?
If you suspect that your first or second stimulus check or debit card was lost in the mail, the easiest course of action is to claim the Recovery Rebate Credit on your 2020 tax return.
If you suspect that your third stimulus check was lost in the mail, you still have time to request a payment trace.
What If My Direct Deposit Went to the Wrong Bank Account?
Don’t worry, your funds aren’t gone forever. The recipient bank is legally obligated to return them to the IRS.
As with a missing paper check, your best option for recouping wayward direct deposits for the first or second rounds of stimulus is to claim a Recovery Rebate Credit on your 2020 tax return.
For missing third stimulus deposits, contact the IRS to initiate a payment trace.
Will I Receive a Separate Check or Payment for My Recovery Rebate Credit?
No. Your Recovery Rebate Credit will reduce your federal income tax in the year it is claimed (the 2020 or 2021 tax year, or both) on a dollar-for-dollar basis.
For example, if you would have owed $1,000 in federal income tax before claiming a $1,200 Recovery Rebate Credit, the credit would eliminate your balance due and entitle you to a $200 federal tax refund payable by direct deposit or paper check.
My Stimulus Check Was Smaller Than Expected. What Should I Do If I Received a Partial Stimulus Payment?
You can claim a Recovery Rebate Credit for any missing portion of your stimulus payment, including missing or partial dependent payments.
Use the Recovery Rebate Credit worksheet to calculate your eligibility and full payment amount based on your 2019 or 2020 AGI when you file your federal income tax return.
Am I Eligible to Receive a Stimulus Payment If I Don’t Have a Social Security Number But Someone in My Household Does?
It depends. While citizens and noncitizens with Social Security numbers generally were eligible for the first and second EIP rounds, individuals without Social Security numbers were not.
This changed for the third round when noncitizens without Social Security numbers were eligible for payments provided they lived in U.S. households where at least one member did have a Social Security number.
Congress has authorized three rounds of economic impact payments since the COVID-19 pandemic began in early 2020. It’s unclear whether a fourth will follow.
Even if we’ve seen the last of the direct pandemic relief checks, Americans set back by the pandemic and the brutal recession it caused can still find help elsewhere.
Private and community-based resources abound for legal and financial relief during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the federal government continues to look for ways to support Americans who’ve lost jobs, income streams, or businesses during the crisis.
Let’s hope that you and yours are able to take advantage of that support as you’re able.