The IRS says it has sent out 130 million stimulus payments, but there are still tens of millions of Americans waiting for theirs. Many of them are small-business owners and self-employed people who pay estimated taxes rather than having part of their paycheck withheld. If you're still waiting for a payment, and you're eager to get it ASAP, make sure the IRS has your current bank information by 12 p.m. Eastern Time on Wednesday. Otherwise, you'll be stuck waiting for a paper check that could take months to arrive.
For weeks, the IRS, financial experts, and websites like this one have been urging people to provide the IRS with a current bank account number so that the agency could deposit stimulus payments directly to their accounts. Many taxpayers who filed in 2018 (or 2019) already gave the IRS this information when arranging to receive their tax refunds. But what if, like many self-employed people, you didn't receive a refund? Then you had to enter your bank information at the IRS Get My Payment portal. Otherwise the agency would default to mailing you a paper check. Since it's able to issue only about five million checks per week, you could have to wait up to four months.
There was a snag, though. Millions of people, including me, who tried to enter their bank information at the Get My Payment site were met with a message saying our payment status was not available because our eligibility could not be determined. It referred us to the agency's FAQ but offered no contact information. After trying the portal over and over, many of us gave up in frustration.
If that describes you, it's time to try again. The payment-status-not-available screen was actually being used as a generic error message by the IRS software. You were liable to encounter it simply because the site was overloaded or malfunctioning, not because there was any actual doubt as to your eligibility. Why did IRS developers choose to write a message telling people they might not be eligible for payment rather than honestly telling them the system was malfunctioning? I'd love to have an answer to that question someday.
Time is running out.
In the meantime, if the IRS doesn't have your bank information and you don't want to risk waiting months for a check to be mailed, you should head to the Get My Payment portal right now. It has been updated recently and a lot of people who were receiving error messages when it first launched are able to use it now. That includes me -- I tried again about 10 days ago and was finally able to input our bank account information, and my husband and I got our stimulus payment last week. Now the IRS is closing the window on anyone who hasn't provided a bank account number yet. I'm guessing the portal will get overloaded again as the noon deadline arrives so your best bet is to input that information as soon as you can.
There's one other possible glitch to be aware of. Millions of people use third-party filing services such as H&R Block or TurboTax, and one of the features these services offer is to rapidly provide your refund money. The way this actually works is that the service advances you the money, and then sets up a temporary bank account in your name and gives the IRS that account number for a direct deposit that repays them for what was, in essence, a very short-term loan. It's a great system, but it's created headaches for some taxpayers because the IRS automatically deposited their stimulus payments into those temporary bank accounts, which in many cases don't exist anymore.
If you used a third-party service and received your tax refund from it (and you still haven't gotten a stimulus payment), you definitely should head to the Get My Payment portal and put in the correct bank information right away. Meantime, H&R Block and TurboTax both say they are providing the IRS with the needed information to send taxpayers' payments to them directly.
If worst comes to worst and the IRS tries to deposit the money in a temporary account that's now closed, it should then revert to sending a paper check. So you'll still get your payment but it may take a bit longer. While you're waiting, you should be able to track your payment on Get My Payment while you're waiting, so at least you'll know when to expect it.