What to Do If You Haven't Received Your Stimulus Check or It's for the Wrong Amount

As the IRS sends out its second batch of stimulus payments, many people wonder where their checks are.

Congress passed a new bill approving a second stimulus check, and while some people have already had their checks direct deposited, many others are wondering where their check is. Others are wondering why their check is so much smaller than last time.

Over the spring and summer of 2020, the IRS sent over 160 million Americans an initial COVID-19 stimulus payment, but millions of people never got their check or they didn't receive any money for their children under 17. While the second stimulus payments appear to be rolling out more quickly, there have been similar problems with the second stimulus payments.

Check the Get My Payment Tool

The IRS website re-released a tool on its website called Get My Payment. You can log on to get your payment status and the date you can expect to receive your stimulus payment, or the date it was deposited or mailed. You should also be able to see whether your money was direct deposited or whether you'll be receiving the payment by mail.

Here are some of the issues people are seeing, either with their actual deposit or with the Get My Payment tool.

Get My Payment Says Payment Issued But I Haven't Received It

The IRS told many people who logged onto the Get My Payment tool that their payment was mailed the first week of January, but some haven't received anything yet. Don't worry yet; the IRS says it may take three or four weeks to get the payment by mail. You may not need to wait quite that long; for example, many taxpayers who were told their payment was sent January 6 finally received their payments on January 25. Some were surprised to receive a debit card rather than a check, even though they had received the first stimulus payment by direct deposit.

If it has been weeks since the Get My Payment tool says the payment was mailed, and you haven't received it, you can request a payment trace. The IRS will research what happened to your check; if the check wasn't cashed, you will need to claim the "Recovery Rebate Credit" (RRC) on your 2020 tax return. (See below for instructions on claiming the rebate on your tax return.) If the IRS finds that the check was cashed, you'll receive a claim package from the Treasury Department with a copy of the cashed check and instructions on filing a claim.

Similarly, if the Get My Payment tool says your payment was direct-deposited, but the money doesn't show in your bank account after five days, first check with your bank. If the bank says it hasn't received a payment, you can request a payment trace.

Unfortunately, if your second stimulus payment was mailed, you'll have to wait until February 24 to request a payment trace. If you never received the first stimulus payment, and the Get My Payment Tool, or the letter you received from the IRS (Notice 1444), says that the payment was mailed, you can request a payment trace now.

To request a payment trace, call 800-919-9835 or fill out IRS Form 3911, Taxpayer Statement Regarding Refund.

Why Did I Receive a Debit Card?

The IRS is issuing millions of debit cards to taxpayers in lieu of stimulus checks. Even if you received your first payment by direct deposit, you may receive the second one by debit card.

The prepaid Visa debit cards, issued by MetaBank, are called Economic Impact Payment (EIP) cards. Your EIP card will arrive in a white envelope with "Economic Impact Payment Card" in the return address. You'll need to activate the card by calling the phone number that comes with the card and choosing a 4-digit PIN number. (For cards with more than one name, only the person listed first on the card can activate it.)

You can use your EIP card for purchases or use it to withdraw cash (subject to a daily limit). You can also transfer the funds from your EIP card directly into your own bank account, after you register for online access. (The card will come with instructions on setting up online access.)

If you use the card wisely, it will be free, but there are some fees to be aware of. If you use an out-of-network ATM or a bank teller to withdraw cash, you may need to pay a fee, and if you check the balance of the debit card, at either an in-network ATM or an out-of-network ATM, you will be charged a small fee. (Instead, you can use your Web browser or a free mobile app to check your balance.)

I Received a Second Payment But My Spouse Didn't

There have been cases where a couple submitted a 2019 tax return as "married filing jointly," and both spouses are eligible for a $600 stimulus check, but one spouse received a payment and the other did not (and the "Get My Payment" tool says no information is available for the spouse who did not receive a check). This is an error on the IRS's part. Unfortunately, the spouse who didn't receive a check will have to claim a Recovery Rebate Credit on his or her 2020 tax return. See below for instructions on claiming the rebate on your tax return.

My Stimulus Payment Went to the Wrong Bank Account

If the Get My Payment tool tells you your check will be direct-deposited, it will also provide the last four digits of the number of the bank account into which your stimulus payment will be deposited. For the initial checks, some individuals saw that their deposit was going to an old bank account, or they even saw bank account numbers that they didn't recognize. This should be less of a problem with the new stimulus check, since many people have since given their correct direct deposit information to the IRS, either through the IRS's non-filer tool (which is no longer active) or by filing a tax return in 2020. Some people, however, are still reporting issues. Here's what to do:

  • If your stimulus payment is sent to a closed bank account, the bank is required to transfer the money back to the IRS. The IRS will not redeposit it to you or mail you a paper check. Instead, you will have to file your 2020 tax return (by April 15, 2021) to claim your "Recovery Rebate Credit." See below for instructions on claiming the rebate on your tax return.
  • If the tool says that your payment was deposited into your bank account but you haven't seen it yet, your bank may still be processing it.
  • You won't necessarily get the second check direct deposited, even if the first one was direct deposited. Some people are reporting their second check is being mailed.
  • If H&R Block submitted your last tax return and you signed up for a "refund transfer," the IRS will deposit your stimulus payment with H&R Block (so you may see its account number instead of yours). H&R Block should transfer the money to your bank account within 24 hours.
  • Those who submitted their last tax return with Turbo Tax should receive their payments in the same bank accounts through they received their 2019 tax refunds.

I Got a "Payment Status Not Available" Message

Some people may log on to the IRS's Get My Payment tool only to see this message: Payment Status #2 - Not Available. The IRS has indicated that these individuals will not receive a stimulus check by direct deposit or mail and they will have to file their 2020 tax return (by April 15, 2021) to claim their "Recovery Rebate Credit." See below for instructions on claiming the rebate on your tax return.

My Stimulus Payment Was Too Low

Many individuals and families will find that their second stimulus checks are lower than they thought, even considering that second payment is half the amount of the first payment. That's because people who make over a certain amount have part of the $600 payment taken away, and this time, there is less payment overall to be taken. For example, single people who make over $75,000 in adjusted gross income have their second stimulus checks reduced by $5 for every $100 of income over $75,000. For example, this means that single people with no children who earned $85,000 would have gotten $700 for the first stimulus check ($1,200 - ($5 x 100)), but they will get only $100 for the second stimulus check ($600 - ($5 x 100)).

Some individuals had too much income in 2019 to qualify for either stimulus payment (since the IRS based eligibility on 2019 income), but their income decreased enough in 2020 for them to qualify. (Read the details on eligibility in our article with a stimulus check calculator). If you fall into this category, in 2021, you'll be eligible for the stimulus money you didn't get—you’ll get a larger refund on your federal tax return in April 2021 because of the recovery rebate credit.

For the first stimulus check, the IRS based some stimulus payments on individuals' 2018 tax returns rather than their 2019 tax returns. Those who had too much income in 2018 to qualify for the initial stimulus payment, but not in 2019, were left incorrectly with a reduced stimulus payment or no stimulus payment. If you fall into this category, in 2021, you'll be eligible for the stimulus money you didn't get—you’ll get a larger refund on your federal tax return in April 2021 because of the recovery rebate credit.

In other cases, families received stimulus payments by direct deposit but the IRS neglected to pay $500 for one or more of their children. Sometimes there didn't seem to be a reason for this (the family e-filed a tax return in 2018 or 2019 claiming the child tax credit for all of their children). For other families, it seems the IRS did not update the number of children that taxpayers have, even for families who claimed new children on their 2019 tax returns. You'll be able to claim the rest of the stimulus payment when you file a tax return in April 2021.

My Stimulus Payment Was Too High

Some individuals whose income increased too much in 2019 were not eligible for a full stimulus payment, but they got one anyway since the IRS based the payment on their 2018 taxes. Those individuals should not have to pay back the payment.

In other cases, families have been paid an extra $500 or $600 for children who were 17 or older (families are supposed to get $500 for each child who are under 17). This could happen if the IRS took the number of children who qualified for the child tax credit in 2018 without updating children's ages for 2019. But in other cases, it looks like the IRS took the number of dependents from a family's 2018 tax return, without regard to their age. It's not expected that the IRS will try to claw back overpayments like this, but if you received an extra $500 or $600 for a child who is 17 or older, it's wise to keep it in savings rather than spending it, in case the IRS asks for it back in April.

The Non-Filer Tool Is No Longer Available

Those who earned little income and didn't need to file a tax return for 2018 or 2019 taxes had until November 21, 2020 to submit "non-filer" information to the IRS. If they did not, they may have to wait until 2021 to get their stimulus "recovery rebate credit" by filing a tax return for 2020 taxes. With the second round of stimulus payments, there is no option to add or change your bank account information.

If you are in this situation, you will be able to file a free tax return with the IRS starting in February 2021. Go to its free file page, where you'll be asked to create an account and provide your Social Security number and bank information for direct deposit.

For the first stimulus check, many individuals who received Social Security, SSI, or veterans benefits didn't get $500 for each child under 17 unless they filed a tax return in 2018 or 2019 or they submitted non-filer information to the IRS. This is likely to happen again for the new $600 payment for each child under 17. These parents will have to file a tax return for 2020 taxes to request the "recovery rebate credit."

How to Claim the Recovery Rebate Credit

If you did not receive your stimulus payment, or if it was for the wrong amount, you'll need to file a tax return for the 2020 tax year (by April 15, 2021). You'll file Form 1040 or Form 1040-SR (tax return for seniors). You'll need your Notice 1444, Your Economic Impact Payment from the IRS when you file. You should have gotten your first Notice 1444 (in the form of a letter signed by the president) sometime last spring or summer, and you should be getting another one in late January or February. You'll need the amount of the payment in the letter when you file your tax return in 2021.

You can take the Recovery Rebate Credit for any rebate amount that is more than the economic impact payment that you received in 2020 by completing line 30 of Form 1040 or Form 1040-SR. The 2020 instructions for Form 1040 and Form 1040-SR will include a worksheet you can use to calculate the amount of the credit you are eligible for.

How Can You Correct Mistakes?

The IRS sends out Notice 1444 by mail within 15 days of making a direct deposit or sending a paper check. That letter will tell you the amount of your stimulus payment and how it was made. The letter also provides instructions on fixing issues with your payment.

Updated January 28, 2021