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Missing a stimulus check? Here's how to claim or report it to the IRS

If your first or second stimulus check never arrived, we've got everything you need to know about how to track your money, file for a missing payment or contact the IRS.

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The way you report a missing stimulus check to the IRS has changed. We'll explain.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Never received your second stimulus check? You're not the only one -- at least 8 million people who qualified for the second payment of up to $600 each hadn't received them by Jan. 22, according to Brian Deese, director of the White House National Economic Council. While many of these people don't usually file taxes (also known as nonfilers), others saw delays because of errors and other issues, too. 

If you didn't receive the amount you expected -- including a payment for each of your child dependents, through direct depositpaper check or EIP card -- and you've made sure you meet the eligibility requirements, it may be time to report your missing money. Depending on what's holding up your payment, such as a mistake by the IRS or a closed bank account, you may need to take different actions, including filing for a Recovery Rebate Credit on your 2020 tax return, or requesting something called a Payment Trace from the IRS

Here's everything we know about how to hunt down and file for a missing stimulus payment, no matter your situation. Plus, here's what we also know about a third stimulus check, including calculating your total possible check sizewhen the payment could arrive and all the ways it could bring more money. This story is updated frequently.

Never got your stimulus check? Here's when to take action

About 15 days after the IRS sends out your second check, you should receive a letter from the agency confirming the payment and giving you a way to get in touch with the agency to report any problems. When the first round of stimulus checks went out last year, that letter included two hotline phone numbers because thousands of agents were available to help. But with the second round of checks, the IRS has changed its tune (more on this below). 

Here are three common scenarios that might indicate you need to look into your stimulus payment:

You should also check to make sure you're qualified to get the second payment, since not everyone who received a check in the first round got it in the second

You can claim your missing money if your first or second check never made it

If you're certain you meet the qualifications to receive the first or second stimulus check, what to do next depends on your situation. 

If you never got your money or a confirmation letter from the IRS that your first payment was sent, you will likely have to file for the money as a Recovery Rebate Credit with your 2020 taxes this year. We've got full instructions for how to file for your Recovery Rebate Credit here, but basically, you'll use the 2020 Form 1040 or Form 1040-SR to claim a catch-up payment when you file your taxes before the April 15 deadline

The IRS will provide a Recovery Rebate Credit Worksheet to help you work out if you're missing a payment and for how much. If you're part of a group that doesn't usually file taxes (such as older adults, retireesSSDI or SSI recipients and individuals with adjusted gross incomes of less than $12,200), you'll likely still need to file this year (we have instructions for nonfilers who need to claim stimulus money on their taxes here). You should also save your IRS letter -- Notice 1444 Your Economic Impact Payment -- with your 2020 tax records, as you'll need it to file the claim. 

You can also file for a Recovery Rebate Credit if you didn't receive the correct amount of money for your child dependents in your first or second check. 

However, there may be other cases where your money didn't come through. Contact the IRS if: 

  • The Get My Payment tracking tool reported that the IRS made your payment weeks ago and you haven't received it (see below).
  • You received a confirmation letter from the IRS that your payment was sent, but you didn't get the funds.
  • You think you accidentally threw your prepaid EIP debit card or check in the trash (see below).
  • You suspect someone stole your check or otherwise defrauded you.
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When you should contact the IRS to track your missing money

You can request an IRS Payment Trace if you received the confirmation letter from the IRS that your payment was sent (also called Notice 1444), or if the Get My Payment tool shows that your payment was issued but you have not received it within certain timeframes. Check out our guide to when and how to request an IRS Payment Trace here

Should you file another form with the IRS if you didn't get your money?

As was the case with the first check, if you filed a 2018 or 2019 tax return or receive government benefits, the IRS should automatically send your second check for $600 without you having to do anything. 

If, however, you're a US citizen or permanent resident, had a gross income in 2019 under $12,200 -- or $24,400 as a married couple -- and didn't file a return for 2018 or 2019, you may have needed to give the IRS a bit of information before it can process your payment. If you missed the Nov. 21 deadline to use the IRS' Non-Filers tool, you will likely have to claim that money on your tax return in the form of a Recovery Rebate Credit, described above.

President Joe Biden on Jan. 22 signed an executive order urging the Treasury Department and IRS to take additional steps to help get payments to these nonfilers who have not yet received their money.

What should you do if you received a confirmation letter from the IRS in the mail, but never got a stimulus payment?

If you received a letter confirming your first or second stimulus payment, but not the money, it's time to contact the IRS. The IRS protocol is to send the letter 15 days after issuing the payment. You will likely have to request a Payment Trace to find your missing money -- here's how to do it

How to use the IRS Get My Payment tracking tool to check your stimulus check status

It's worth visiting the IRS' online portal designed to track the status of your 2020 and 2021 payments. Generally, it should tell you when your check will be processed and how you'll receive it (for example, as a paper check in the mail). If the Get My Payment tool doesn't give you information you can understand or says your check is on the way and you haven't received it, you may need to eventually report the discrepancy to the IRS or file for a Recovery Rebate Credit

Postal mailbox

Is your stimulus check inside?

Sarah Tew/CNET

Why does the IRS Get My Payment app says it needs more information?

If the Get My Payment tool gave you a payment date but you still haven't received your money, the IRS may need more information. Check the Get My Payment tool again and if it reports "Need More Information," this could indicate that your check has been returned because the post office was unable to deliver it, an IRS representative told CNET.

After you see the Need More Information message, the online tool will let you enter your banking information to receive your payment straight to your bank account. The IRS said If you don't provide your bank account information, the agency will hold your payment till it receives a current mailing address. Head to the IRS change-address page for how to update your address with the IRS. You'll also want to inform the USPS of your new residence.

Why does the IRS Get My Payment app says Payment Status Not Available?

It's normal for the Get My Payment tool to give you a message that says "Payment Status Not Available" until the payment is scheduled to be issued, according to the IRS. This message doesn't mean you're not eligible or that you won't receive a payment -- you'll likely just have to wait. 

What to do if you accidentally threw your stimulus check away

In the first round of payments, four million people were to receive their stimulus money on a prepaid debit card called the Economic Impact Payment Card, instead of a paper check. The IRS told CNET that 8 million people will receive their second stimulus check this way. The EIP card arrives in a plain envelope, the IRS said, with Money Network Cardholder Services as the sender. 

Some people, taking it for junk mail, may have mistakenly thrown these letters away. If you've misplaced or thrown away your card, the EIP card service has an FAQ on what to do if your card is lost or stolen. You can also call 800-240-8100 to request a replacement. It's free, according to a spokesperson for the Treasury Department. To request a new card, press option 2 when prompted. 

However, the EIP card website says, "Your Card will be deactivated to prevent anyone from using it and a new replacement Card will be ordered. Fees may apply." We recommend calling the above number for a lost or stolen card and speaking to a representative. If you may have lost or thrown away a paper check, read the next section. 

Think the federal government garnished your first or second payment?

If you owe child support, the IRS can redirect your payment to cover past-due support. The Bureau of the Fiscal Service will send you a notice if this happens. Your second check should not have been redirected for past-due child support, however. Find out who does and does not have the power to take your second stimulus check here and find out everything you need to know about stimulus checks and child support here

The IRS sent your check to a bank account you closed. What can you do?

Your check may have bounced back to the IRS if the agency tried to send your payment to a now-closed bank account or to a temporary prepaid debit card a tax preparer set up for you. If your payment was returned to the IRS, the agency will mail your check to the current address it has on file for you.

With the second check, the IRS isn't accepting new or changed banking information. If the IRS attempts to make a payment to a now-closed bank account, the financial institution must return the payment to the IRS, the agency said. The IRS said it's looking at options to correct these payments and said if you have not received your full payment by the time you file your 2020 tax return, you may claim it as a Recovery Rebate Credit on your tax return. (Find out more about how stimulus check direct deposit works.)

Read more: 3 smart reasons you may want to sign up for direct deposit on your 2020 taxes

US currency: $20 and $100 bills

Where's your stimulus money? A number of factors could be causing the holdup.

James Martin/CNET

What if your first check didn't include the full amount you were owed?

A different, but related, issue could be a change in your income in 2020. In some cases, the IRS may owe you more money than you received if the income figure used to calculate your payment from your tax returns in 2018 or 2019 is less in 2020. 

Likewise, if you now have a new dependent, such as a child, who isn't reflected on your tax returns, you may be owed more money. In either case, the IRS said, you can claim the additional amount on your 2020 tax return with the Recovery Rebate Credit when you file this year. We recommend keeping a detailed record so you don't forget. 

You suspect mail fraud or a scam. Is there anything you can do?

Though it's uncommon, you may believe you've been scammed out of your payment or had it stolen. The Federal Trade Commission has a website where you can report a stolen stimulus check. We've asked the IRS what other recourse you have if this situation applies to you and we'll update this article when we hear back. If you're worried about theft, you can sign up for a free USPS service that will send you a picture of every piece of mail coming your way -- including your stimulus payment.

Should you call the IRS to ask about your missing stimulus check? 

With the first round of checks, the IRS gave out a phone number to call for assistance in the confirmation letter you received 15 days after your payment was sent out. Later in 2020, the IRS requested that people with questions about their stimulus check not call the agency. 

If you still want to try, however, you can call the IRS help number at 800-829-1040, or 800-919-9835 to set up a Payment Trace.