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Missing your $1,400 stimulus check? What you should and shouldn't do

If you have a stimulus check problem, you shouldn't call the IRS. Here's what to try instead to track down your payment.

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Sorry, but the IRS doesn't want you to call if you have a problem with your stimulus check.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The IRS has sent out more than 150 million stimulus checks so far, but if there's a problem with yours, what should you do? Don't get in touch with the IRS. "Do not call the IRS," the agency says on its website. "Our phone assistors don't have information beyond what's available on IRS.gov." So if you do have any trouble with your third stimulus check for up to $1,400 and the IRS tracking tool isn't helping, or if you receive federal benefits and have a question or you're missing money from a previous stimulus check, you'll have to try other avenues for help. 

While the IRS had opened phone lines up for inquiries with the first stimulus check, that's changed this time around. But that doesn't mean you don't have a lot of questions, especially since the third payments are so tightly tied to tax season, which is ongoing until May 17, the new deadline

We'll try to point you in the right direction if you got a different payment amount than you expected, are missing money for your dependents, had a problem with direct deposit delivery or don't usually file taxes (you're a nonfiler). We also suggest a course of action if your check was mistakenly garnished, you never got a payment even though a letter says you did or you have a different stimulus check problem. We'll help explain different approaches you can take including filing for a Recovery Rebate Credit on your 2020 tax return or requesting something called a Payment Trace from the IRS. Plus, here's what we know about a fourth stimulus check. This story has been updated with new information.

There's a direct deposit problem with my bank. What should I do?

The IRS tracking tool for the third stimulus check doesn't allow you to add direct deposit information this time unless the IRS can't deliver your payment. So if you have a problem, what do 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. If that check is returned, then the IRS will let you enter your banking information in the Get My Payment tool, the IRS said.

First, we suggest you call your bank or tax preparer -- it never hurts to cover all your bases to confirm that an attempt was made to deposit money into a closed account or debit card.

Unfortunately, you'll need to wait and monitor the Get My Payment tracker to keep tabs on your check delivery. We also recommend signing up for a free service to track your check to your mailbox. And by the way, the Treasury has announced that any eligible recipient who hasn't received a direct payment by March 24 will get a check or EIP card in the mail.

Was my stimulus payment garnished?

If you owe child support or other debts, your first check was subject to garnishment. The third check is subject to being seized by private debt collectors, but not the state or federal government. The same goes for the second payment, too, if you're claiming missing money in a Recovery Rebate Credit. You may receive a notice from the Bureau of the Fiscal Service or your bank if either of these scenarios happens.

In the case of the third check, we recommend calling your bank to confirm the garnishment request from creditors and ask details about how long you have to file a request with a local court to stop the garnishment. If you think money has already been mistakenly seized from the first two checks, you can file a Recovery Rebate Credit as part of your 2020 tax return.

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I receive Social Security like SSI, SSDI or veteran benefits. What should I do if I have a problem?

The IRS said it is sending out stimulus checks for Social Security beneficiaries, including those who are part of the SSI and SSDI programs, this weekend. While some electronic payments may start to appear Saturday or Sunday, most people can expect to get their stimulus checks electronically by April 7, the IRS said. Check out our guide on stimulus checks and SSI and SSDI benefits here.

Payments for people who receive veteran benefits (VA) and don't typically file taxes will start getting disbursed electronically on April 14, the IRS said Wednesday

The Social Security Administration has also advised people not to contact the agency with problems. It's possible you you may need to use one of these strategies below, depending on what the trouble is. 

Missing stimulus check? Here's when to take action

About 15 days after the IRS sends out your check, you should receive a letter from the agency confirming the payment. 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 and third rounds of checks, the IRS changed its tune, and these phone numbers may be disconnected. 

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

You should also confirm you're qualified to get the stimulus payment, since not everyone who received a previous check is qualified this time. If you think it's time to take action, read for more options.

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Looking for missing stimulus check money? You may need to request a payment trace or more.

Sarah Tew/CNET

When you might need to file a Payment Trace to track down your 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 time frames. Check out our guide to when and how to request an IRS Payment Trace here

Claim missing money from the first two checks on your 2020 tax return, here's how

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 payment was sent, you will likely have to file for the money. 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 May 17 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 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. The same goes for parents of 2020 babies (and next year, parents of 2021 babies will similarly be able to file).

If you don't get all your stimulus money from the third payment of $1,400, you'll need to wait

The third stimulus check is still being sent to millions of recipients. Keep checking the IRS tracking tool and sign up for Informed Delivery with the USPS if you think you want to make sure you don't miss out on your delivery. Hang on to the confirmation letter from the IRS for your records. Make sure you have an estimate of how much money the IRS should calculate for you, and triple-check that you meet the qualifications, including the income limits.

Because of the overlap with Tax Season 2020, many people may receive some, but not all, of their allotted amount. You may need to wait for further instructions on how to claim a partial payment. We don't yet know if you'll have another opportunity later in 2021, or if you'll need to wait until the 2022 tax season.

If my payment doesn't arrive, do I have to file another form with the IRS? 

As was the case with the first and second check, if you filed a 2018, 2019 or 2020 tax return or receive government benefits, the IRS should automatically send your third check without you having to do anything. 

If, however, you're a nonfiler, 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 need to give the IRS a bit of information before it can process your payment. Since the IRS' Non-Filers tool is now closed, you should file a 2020 tax return ASAP to state the number of dependents you can claim. Otherwise, you may need to file for that money on a 2021 tax return (in 2022) in the form of a Recovery Rebate Credit, described above.

What should I do if I get a confirmation letter from the IRS in the mail but never got a stimulus payment?

If you received a letter confirming your first, second or third 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 may need to request a payment trace to find your missing money -- here's how to do it

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

For the third stimulus check: It's worth visiting the IRS' online portal designed to track the status of your 2021 payment. 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 request a payment trace or file for a Recovery Rebate Credit

For the first or second payment: If you can't find the letter sent by the IRS, you'll need to create an online profile with the IRS to see your status. For any problems, you may need to issue a payment trace or file for a Recovery Rebate Credit, even if you don't normally submit a tax return.

Why does the IRS Get My Payment app to say 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. Here are more details on how the tracker tool works and what the messages mean.

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Receiving your stimulus check money isn't always easy.

Sarah Tew/CNET

What prompts the IRS Get My Payment app to say 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 if there's a problem with my EIP card, including a lost or stolen card?

At least 5 million people will receive their third stimulus check on a prepaid debit card called the Economic Impact Payment Card, instead of a paper check. With the third payment, the EIP card arrives in a white envelope sent from "Economic Impact Payment Card." The letter will have a US Department of the Treasury seal.

The card has the Visa name on the front and the issuing bank, MetaBank®, N.A., on the back. Information included with the EIP Card explains that this is your Economic Impact Payment. If you receive an EIP Card, visit EIPcard.com for more information.

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 mail fraud section below. 

What if my check didn't include the full amount I was owed?

A change in your income in 2020 could cause this to occur. 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 new baby, you may be owed more money that you need to claim through May 17 as a Recovery Rebate Credit, later in 2021 if the error applies to the third check, or in the following tax season. 

I suspect mail fraud or a scam. What are my options?

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. 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.

Looking for more answers?

Here are some additional things you can try to resolve your stimulus check problems, including if you think your money has been garnished. Here's everything you should know about the third stimulus check, the expanded child tax credit for 2021 and other ways the new stimulus bill can benefit you.