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How to get your stimulus check faster

Coronavirus stimulus payments started going out in mid-April, but millions of Americans are still waiting for theirs

Summary

Millions of Americans are still waiting for their coronavirus stimulus payments to come in. If you’re one of them, you can still check your payment status on the IRS website. And if you don’t have a bank, you can have your payment sent to a prepaid card.

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So far, the federal government has sent 140 million economic stimulus payments to American taxpayers, mostly via direct deposit.

The payments, totaling $1,200 for most adults and $500 for children, were a key provision of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

The initial wave of payments went to households who filed 2018 or 2019 tax returns and received a refund by direct deposit. However, many taxpayers are still owed money. This is where it gets trickier.

  • If the IRS didn’t send you a tax refund via direct deposit in 2018 or 2019 but you filed a return for at least one of those years, the agency says you can check the status of your stimulus payment using its Get My Payment feature. Unfortunately, as of May 13, you can no longer add your direct deposit information on this page. (But you’ll still receive a stimulus payment if you’re eligible.)
  • If you were not required to file in either of those years – for instance, if your 2019 income did not exceed $12,200 ($24,400 for married couples) – there’s a separate page for non-filers to provide their direct deposit information.

If all of these digital means fail, the IRS will be sending paper checks or prepaid debit cards in the mail, though they were expected to take weeks or months to arrive.

What if you don’t have a bank account?

Roughly 24 million U.S. households are considered underbanked by the FDIC and another 8 million are completely unbanked. Many turn to prepaid cards as an alternative to the traditional banking system.

Good news: It’s possible to get your stimulus payment deposited onto a prepaid card.

On May 18, the Treasury Department and the IRS announced they would be sending nearly 4 million stimulus payments via prepaid debit card. The cards can be used to make purchases anywhere Visa is accepted, get cash from an ATM and transfer funds to your bank account with no fee.

Mastercard is also advocating for prepaid debit cards. I spoke with Kathryn Cleary, the company’s senior vice president of U.S. business development, who explained that Mastercard’s general-purpose reloadable cards have routing and account numbers just like bank accounts. Cleary clarified that gift cards intended for temporary use do not qualify.

Check the fine print before signing up for a prepaid card. Many charge a variety of fees: monthly maintenance fees, purchase fees, ATM fees and more. If you can get a no-fee bank account, that’s probably a better option, although not everyone can (or wants to) qualify.

For the unbanked and underbanked, Cleary believes prepaid cards are cheaper (and more sanitary) than check cashing services. It’s also important to note that all of Mastercard’s prepaid cards include FDIC insurance.

Another potential benefit: While the CARES Act only explicitly authorized the seizure of stimulus funds for overdue child support, some banks are garnishing these payments to offset past debts or overdraft fees, The New York Times reports. Some people would, therefore, rather not receive their stimulus funds through their bank.

One more tidbit about Mastercard, stimulus payments and prepaid cards: The card network is partnering with the city of Los Angeles to distribute payments ranging from $700 to $1,500. These are for low-income households impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The program has received very high demand, according to the Los Angeles Daily News.

My stimulus payment experience

I received my stimulus payment via direct deposit on May 6, but it wasn’t a quick or easy process.

In mid April, after visiting the IRS’s “Get My Payment” link and entering my Social Security number, birth date, street address and ZIP code as instructed, I got this error message:

Payment Status Not Available

According to information that we have on file, we cannot determine your eligibility for a payment at this time.

Other snags were reported by people who filed their taxes using tax preparation software and those who either received the wrong payment amount or didn’t get $500 for each of their dependent children. The Washington Post noted that people were also getting locked out of the IRS’s website while trying to enter their direct deposit information.

Following several reader complaints, CNBC posed this scenario to an IRS spokesperson, who replied: “What happened is instead of having an error message or a message saying the system is very busy, it just says your information isn’t in here, that was the default. But that should be fixed now. Just be patient, check back later. If you filed last year’s or this year’s taxes we have your information.”

I had a small breakthrough on April 24. The error message disappeared, and I was able to enter my bank account information! Alas, I seemingly failed the validation questions, which included my 2019 adjusted gross income, whether I received a refund or owed money, and the amount of that refund or payment.

I was positive I entered the correct numbers because I had my tax return on the screen and double-checked the figures. As a backup, I was prompted to enter my 2018 tax information, but I apparently failed that too. Again, I wasn’t sure why.

I tried again on April 27, and it was the same story with my 2019 taxes. This time, however, my 2018 entries were accepted, along with my bank account information. My stimulus payment hit my bank account about a week and a half later.

Einstein may have said doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is the definition of insanity, but in my experience with the IRS Get My Payment website, doing the same thing over and over actually does lead to different results.

It’s too late to enter your direct deposit information on the IRS website if you haven’t done so already, but you can still check your status. The IRS says the website is updated every day, so it’s worth trying for a few minutes every day – or at least every few days.

Have a question about credit cards? E-mail me at ted.rossman@creditcards.com and I’d be happy to help.

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The editorial content on this page is based solely on the objective assessment of our writers and is not driven by advertising dollars. It has not been provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products from our partners.

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