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Where's your stimulus check? Hunting down your payment starts with this IRS tool

We'll tell you everything you can do to get to the bottom of a missing stimulus check.

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If your second stimulus check hasn't arrived yet, here's the first step to tracking it down.

Sarah Tew/CNET

It's too late to expect the IRS to simply send you a stimulus check for up to $600 a person, and too soon to file a claim on your 2020 taxes (more on that in a minute). So if you think you're owed a stimulus payment you don't have, what do you do now?

There are several avenues you can take, and we'll explain what they are. But the very first step we suggest is to use the IRS' payment tracking tool to get a basis of information. That will help guide you so you know what to do next. It might be that the tools says it mailed a paper check or EIP card, or made a direct deposit you never got. That will prompt one course of action. Maybe there's a cryptic message that suggests the IRS doesn't have enough information about you. That will steer you in a different direction. 

Or, if the IRS tells you it sent a payment amount that you did receive, but you used our stimulus check calculator and believe you're entitled to more, a different error could be the cause, and you'll need to claim all or part of your missing stimulus payment as a Recovery Rebate Credit on your taxes -- even if you're a nonfiler. Here are tips for using the tool, and how certain messages can guide you on what to do next. (In other news, here's what we know about the timeline of a third stimulus check for up to $1,400.) This story was updated with new information.

IRS Get My Payment: What to know before using the tool

While the IRS was actively sending stimulus checks, it updated its tracking tool, called Get My Payment, once a day. You plug in your Social Security Number, date of birth, street address and zip code, and to tool displays a message with information about your check -- whether the payment was sent, the payment method (direct deposit or by mail) and date it was issued. It'll also let you know if the service can't yet determine your status -- more below on error messages.

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What does a 'Need More Information' message mean?

You may see an error if the tool can't determine your eligibility -- or if you're completely ineligible -- if your payment status isn't available, or if a lot of people are trying to access the tool at once (that's less expected now). 

If the Get My Payment tool gave you a payment date but you still haven't received your money, the IRS may need more details from you. The error could also indicate that your check has been returned because the post office was unable to deliver it, an IRS representative told CNET.

When the IRS was sending checks actively, the online tool would let you enter your banking information to receive your payment straight to your bank account, or it would hold your payment until it received a current mailing address. Now that the payment window has passed, it may mean you need to report the issue to the IRS or claim the money on a 2020 tax return using the Recovery Rebate Credit.

What to do if you see '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. But now that the deadline has passed, it means your best bet of claiming your share of the money is to file for the Recovery Rebate Credit as part of tax season 2020. If you're eligible, you'll need the amount of money the IRS allotted you, which you can find out online or in a letter the agency mailed.

If Get My Payment says the IRS sent a stimulus check, but you never got it, do this

If the IRS' online tool issued your stimulus money, but you have no record of it in the mail or in your bank account, and it never arrived in your mailbox, you may need to file a stimulus check payment trace. It's handy if you also have the letter the IRS may have sent you.

What if you threw away the IRS letter confirming your stimulus payment?

If the IRS issues you a stimulus check, it sends a notice by mail to a taxpayer's last known address within 15 days after making the payment, to confirm delivery. The letter contained information on when and how the payment was made and how to report to the IRS if you didn't receive your check. The letter is helpful if you didn't receive your full payment and need to claim your money later. Here's how to recover the information if you lost or tossed the letter.

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The IRS and US Treasury are now making the second round of stimulus payments.

Sarah Tew/CNET

It's not too late to prepare for a third stimulus check

A third stimulus check is in the works and you'll likely get it fastest if you have a direct deposit account set up with the IRS. If you don't, it's not too late, but you will need to act soon. The IRS didn't let people register new direct deposit accounts or change their banking information with the second stimulus check, and we have no way to know if the agency would open or close direct deposit adjustments with the third stimulus payment.

What we do know is that you can register for a new direct deposit account (actually, up to three) as part of filinf your 2020 tax return.

Keep in mind for the next payment: You can track a mailed stimulus check to your mailbox

If your second stimulus check has just been sent by mail, the US Postal Service has a free app that can notify you when it's about to deliver your stimulus money from the IRS. Called Informed Delivery, the mail-tracking service automatically scans your letters and can alert you when they'll be delivered. Here's more on how to set up and use the letter-tracking service from the USPS to keep tabs on your payment.

For more information, here's everything to know about a second stimulus check, how the IRS actually decides how much money you get and here's what we know about a third stimulus check.