According to the IRS, getting your stimulus check (also known as an Economic Impact Payment) will happen automatically for most taxpayers.
So what does that mean? How do you know if you’re part of that “most taxpayers” group, and when might you get your stimulus check?
Plus, what steps should you take to get your stimulus check if you didn’t file or didn’t get a refund?
Let’s go over the answers to those common questions now.
If you’re still waiting for your stimulus check
If you’re still waiting, you’re not alone. According to the House Committee on Ways & Means, the first round of payments went out the week of April 13th to over 80 million people — but that means there are many millions more still to go.
You can use the Get My Payment form to see your payment status and often to add direct deposit info. If you didn’t get your stimulus check yet, there will be more rounds of payments each week via direct deposit. There will be paper checks for those who don’t get theirs via direct deposit.
The second round of stimulus check payments started going out the week of April 20th. According to the Washington Post, paper checks should go out “to the lowest-income Americans first, prioritizing payments for individual taxpayers with incomes of $10,000 or less on April 24. Checks for earners of $20,000 or less would be in the mail May 1, followed by those with incomes of $30,000 on May 8, $40,000 on May 15, and continuing in income increments of $10,000 each week, according to the plan. The IRS plans to issue about 5 million checks each week.”
Of course, if you make too much, you either won’t get a check or will get a reduced check. It depends on your adjusted gross income and your filing status. The short version is you can have an adjusted gross income of up to $75,000 for individuals and up to $150,000 for married couples and still get the full amount. It starts getting phased out after that. See the IRS website for details about eligibility.
If you filed your taxes for tax years 2018 or 2019
If you filed your taxes for tax years 2018 or 2019 (meaning you probably filed your taxes this year or last year) the payment should just automatically appear in your bank account if you:
- got a refund for at least one of those years
- had direct deposit for your refund
- still use the bank account you had the refund deposited to
In that case, you probably already got your stimulus “check” via direct deposit in your bank account.
We got ours April 15th. We had our refund split between two accounts last year, so the stimulus checks went to the first account listed. It showed up as one payment of $2,400. So if you had more than one account listed and aren’t seeing yours, you may want to check them all.
If you got a refund via direct deposit but your bank account changed
If your bank account changed, the bank should reject your stimulus check deposit. In that case, the IRS will send a paper check. You can’t change your bank account information unless you haven’t filed your 2019 taxes yet. In that case, electronically file your 2019 taxes as soon as you can. (The IRS isn’t processing paper returns right now.)
If you got a refund via a paper check or you didn’t get a refund
If you got a refund for 2018 or 2019 but didn’t use direct deposit, you should be mailed a paper check. (Even if you get Social Security, Railroad Retirement, or Veterans Affairs benefits by direct deposit.) If you didn’t get a refund but did file your taxes, you should also be mailed a paper check.
This is the case unless you are still able to give them direct deposit information using the Get My Payment tool. In that case, you may need copies of your 2019 return (if you filed it) and your 2018 return. You’ll need to use the Get My Payment tool before your stimulus payment is processed.
Note that some people are having problems with the bank verification part of the Get My Payment tool. Lazy Man and Money pointed out on Twitter that, “The problem was the bank verification asked for how much the overage or refund was (seemingly line 19 on 2018 form) – but we applied it to the 2019 estimated taxes. They were looking for line 20a, which is how [much] we wanted refunded ($0).” So if that’s happening for you, that may be the fix.
If they send a paper stimulus check and you’ve filed your 2019 return
If they send a paper check for your stimulus payment, it’ll go to the address you listed on your most recent tax return.
If you’ve moved since you filed your 2019 return and are expecting a paper check, it may go to the updated address you put in the USPS’s change of address form, if you filled that out. But it may also be returned to sender. It depends on whether or not the IRS got that information and accepted the updated information based on their rules. (Government checks are not usually forwarded; instead they are returned to sender.)
So you’ll need to change your address with the IRS, but that’s hard to do at the moment. The usual way to change your address with the IRS is either by filing a tax return with your current address or using one of these methods. But the IRS is not processing paper changes or staffing phone lines right now. (I assume this is due to the current situation.)
If you filed your 2019 return and then moved, got a refund check in the mail, and had that refund returned to sender, you may be able to use the Where’s My Refund site to electronically update your address online. In theory this may then also change your address for your stimulus check.
Side note: It’s always a good idea to fill out a change of address form with the post office so you can keep getting your regular mail! If you sign up for the USPS’s free informed delivery service too, you can “digitally preview” letters that will be coming to you soon. It’s a good way to keep an eye out for that paper stimulus check and the letter that follows to let you know your economic impact payment was sent or deposited.
If you get a debit card…
Note that starting the week of May 18th, 2020, prepaid debit cards are being sent out instead of paper check to about 4 million people. These debit cards are known as EIP cards. According to this press release from the US Department of the Treasury, the EIP cards are being sent to “qualified individuals without bank information on file with the IRS, and whose tax return was processed by either the Andover or Austin IRS Service Center.”
And although this seems like something that could be ripe for scammers to take advantage of, the FAQs for the EIP card do say that “you will be asked to validate your identity by providing, at minimum, your name, address, and social security number” to activate it. So if you get an EIP card for your stimulus payment, make sure the phone number on the card is the same as the one shown in the FAQs before calling to activate it.
If you did NOT file for tax years 2018 or 2019
What happens to your stimulus check if you didn’t file taxes? What steps should take then? Well, it depends.
If you didn’t file your taxes but you should have
If you didn’t file your taxes but you should have, file.
If you didn’t file your taxes because you don’t need to
If you didn’t file your taxes because you don’t need to, you may or may not need to do something. (Not everyone needs to file, but if you’re eligible you should still get your stimulus check.) It depends on your situation, so look to see what applies to you.
If you get certain benefits
If you don’t normally file and you got benefits in 2019 from:
- Social Security retirement, disability, or survivor benefits
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
- Railroad Retirement benefits
- VA Compensation & Pension benefits
Then you don’t need to do anything to get your stimulus check if you didn’t file a 2019 or 2018 return. Your stimulus check will generally come the same way you normally get your federal benefits. (Either direct deposit, Direct Express card, or paper check through the mail.)
If you get SSI or Veterans Affairs benefits AND you have qualifying children under 17 AND you don’t normally file a return, you have until May 5 to use the “Non-Filers: Enter Payment Info Here” tool to register to have $500 per child added to your check.
If you get SSA or railroad benefits, there was an April 22nd deadline to to register to have $500 per child added to your check.
But don’t worry. If you miss either of those deadlines, you’ll still get your $1200 payment. However, the extra $500 per eligible child amount would be paid after filing a tax return for for tax year 2020. So it seems you would need to file a tax return next year even if you don’t normally need to.
If you don’t get any special benefits
If don’t get any of those benefits and don’t need to file, use the IRS’s “Non-Filers: Enter Payment Info Here” tool. You’ll need to use that tool in order to get your stimulus check.
What should you do with your stimulus check?
Once you do get your check, what you do with it is up to you. Some suggestions include:
- Feeding yourself and your family
- Starting an emergency fund if you don’t have one
- Paying your mortgage or rent
- Adding to your emergency fund if it won’t cover 6-12 months of minimum spending
- Paying down debt if you have a large emergency fund and are sure your income is secure
- Helping others if you don’t think you will need the money
- Investing it (for example, by using it to fund your IRA. M1 Finance is one place to do that.)
Whatever you decide, be sure it’s a good fit with your current situation — and as best you can, with whatever the future might bring.