(CBS MONEYWATCH) — As major banks started delivering $1,400 stimulus checks this month, the timing of the federal relief payments has aroused concerns among many people who are struggling to make ends meet amid the coronavirus-hobbled economy.
The Internal Revenue Service has delivered 127 million payments worth approximately $325 billion, the agency said on Wednesday. But among those still waiting for payments are about 30 million Social Security recipients, who have reached out to CBS MoneyWatch with concerns about delays.
The House Ways and Means Committee on Monday sent a letter to the IRS asking about reported delays in sending payments to Social Security, Veterans Affairs and Railroad Retirement Board benefit recipients.
“Some of our most vulnerable seniors and persons with disabilities, including veterans who served our country with honor, are unable to pay for basic necessities while they wait for their overdue payments,” lawmakers on the panel wrote.
Their prodding appears to have paid off. Lawmakers on Thursday said they received notice from the SSA that the agency sent payment data for 30 million Social Security recipients to the IRS that morning. The SSA confirmed the release of the payment information in a separate statement, adding that it had had to work out a “reimbursable agreement with IRS because we received no direct appropriation through” the American Rescue Act for work that’s not directly related to its programs or mission.
For those 30 million Social Security and other government program beneficiaries, the question is now how long it will take for the IRS to send payments to them. The IRS didn’t immediately return requests for comment.
Among the first people to receive payments are those who bank at some smaller institutions, like the startup bank Current. Some of those people received payments as early as March 12, or only one day after President Joe Biden signed the American Rescue Plan into law. That’s because those banks used their own balance sheets to credit the money into customer accounts rather than waiting for the official fund settlement date of March 17, which was set by the IRS.
Millions of customers at bigger banks like JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo received their payments on March 17 or later, depending on when the IRS set the payment date. But in some cases, people may experience longer delays in getting a stimulus check, including individuals who filed paper tax returns. That’s because the IRS is basing the payments on a person’s most recent tax returns, while the agency also remains backed up in processing paper forms due to the pandemic.
One year after the pandemic shut down the U.S. economy, millions of people continue to experience financial hardship. About 38% of people said their household income remains impacted by the crisis, according to a study from TransUnion, a financial services firm.
That represents a significant decline from a year earlier, when about 6 in 10 people said their household income had taken a hit, but it continues to show the ongoing struggles facing many Americans, said Charlie Wise, head of global research and consulting at TransUnion.
“It’s material improvement, but it indicates over one-third of consumers are continuing to feel some sort of financial impact,” Wise told CBS MoneyWatch. “That’s a big deal.”
To be sure, not everyone who is in line to receive a stimulus check has suffered income or job loss, with about 4 in 10 people telling TransUnion that their income didn’t change during the pandemic. They’ll likely either build their personal savings or spend the money, stimulating the broader U.S. economy.
Here’s what you need to know about the timing of the checks.
Why did some people get checks before March 17?
As mentioned above, some customers at smaller banks received their checks as soon as a day after Mr. Biden signed the relief bill into law. That’s because those banks made the decision to credit the funds to customer accounts immediately by using their own balance sheets.
But some bigger banks said that the timing of the payments was outside of their control. Although the IRS started issuing payments over the weekend, the official payment date was set on March 17, Wells Fargo and JPMorgan Chase told CBS MoneyWatch.
PMorgan Chase on March 17 said it posted all the payments it had received from the IRS so far. But some Wells Fargo customers complained on social media that they had experienced difficulties logging into their online accounts, adding to their frustration about accessing their funds.
Wells Fargo said it was “not holding the funds” and that it deposited the money into accounts on the morning of the 17th. The bank said it was working on the log-in problem, which it later said it fixed that same day. “We apologize to our customers who may be experiencing issues with our online banking this morning due to high volumes,” a Wells Fargo spokesman said in an email. “This does not affect stimulus payments with March 17 effective date which were credited to accounts today.”
Can I track my payment?
The IRS reopened its “Get My Payment” website following the passage of the American Rescue Plan, allowing people to track when they might receive their stimulus checks. The IRS created this portal last year for the $1,200 stimulus checks directed by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security, or CARES, Act.
When people check the “Get My Payment” site for the new $1,400 checks, they typically see one of several messages.
First, some people will see that their payment has been processed, along with a payment date and whether the payment will be sent via direct deposit or mail. If a check is sent by mail, the IRS will either send a paper check or a pre-paid debit card.
Others may see a message that they are eligible, but their payment hasn’t been processed and therefore there’s no payment date available.
“Payment Status Not Available”: Huh?
Another group of people may receive a message that reads “Payment Status Not Available.” That message can mean a couple of things, the IRS said. It may indicate that the tax agency either hasn’t processed your payment or those people aren’t eligible for payment, it noted.
What does “need more information” mean?
Others may see a “need more information” message, which the tax agency said means the payment was returned to the IRS because the U.S. Postal Service wasn’t able to deliver the check. In that case, people can use the “Get My Payment” site to provide the IRS with bank information — but the tax agency said that only people who get the “need more information” message will be able to add their bank information to the portal.
Why can’t I get on the “Get My Payment” site?
The IRS said this can happen if people don’t provide security answers that match the tax agency’s information over the course of several attempts to log in. The IRS asks for personal information such as a Social Security number, birthdate and address.
“If you can’t verify your identity, you won’t be able to use Get My Payment,” the IRS said. “Don’t contact the IRS for assistance with a lockout; IRS assisters can’t unlock your account.”
However, the site will allow you to try again after 24 hours.
My address changed — how can I tell the IRS?
Many people moved in 2020, which means if you are one of those expecting a mailed check or pre-paid debit card, you may be concerned about the payment reaching you.
Unfortunately, the IRS’ “Get My Payment” site doesn’t allow people to update their addresses. Instead, the IRS is urging people to file their 2020 tax returns with their current address.
However, given that the deadline for filing 2020 tax returns has been pushed back to May 17 from its typical April 15 cutoff, there are likely millions of people who haven’t yet filed their tax forms and aren’t likely to do so before the IRS distributes most of its checks.
The IRS said that payments that can’t be delivered to eligible people will be returned to the tax agency. If that happens, the IRS’ “Get My Payment” site will show you a “Need More Information” message, which will then allow you to enter direct deposit information or ask for the stimulus check to be delivered on a pre-paid debit card.
Will the IRS reload a prior pre-paid debit card?
Some people who received one or both of their first two stimulus payments on a pre-paid debit card may wonder if the IRS will reload that card with the $1,400 for the latest round of payments. The answer is no, the IRS says.
If the IRS now has bank account information for you, it will send the money via direct deposit. If not, it will either issue a check or a pre-paid debit card, but the latter will come in the form of a new card, the tax agency said.
People should look for a white envelope with the return address “Economic Impact Payment Card” accompanied by a U.S. Department of the Treasury seal. The card says “Visa” on the front, and the issuing bank, MetaBank, on the back.
What if the IRS has the wrong bank account?
Unfortunately, the IRS says you can’t change the bank account it has on file for you — unless you get the “Need More Information” message. The IRS is initially relying on bank account information that people gave it through a variety of ways: their 2020 tax return, their 2019 tax return if their 2020 return isn’t yet filed, information you gave the IRS on the “Get My Payment” site last year or information you entered through the “Non-filer” portal last year.
It will also tap federal agencies such as the Social Security Administration or Veteran Affairs to get bank account information for people who receive benefits through those agencies. However, some recipients of Social Security — who receive their benefits through direct deposit — told CBS MoneyWatch they are still waiting for their payments.
So what happens if your bank account changed since you provided that information to the IRS? The bad news is you may have a delay in getting your funds — but you will eventually get them, the IRS insists. The agency said payments that are sent to accounts that have been closed will be returned to the tax agency. At that point, the IRS will send a payment through paper check or pre-paid debit card to your mailing address.
What if I didn’t get the right amount?
Some people may get their checks quickly, yet discover the payment amount is incorrect — that could be due to their dependents or changes in income.
The law provides $1,400 per adult and dependent, as long as the household income falls below the income threshold for eligibility. In the current bill, single people whose adjusted gross income was below $75,000 and married couples with income below $150,000 will receive their full payments, as well as their dependents. Payments decline for earnings above that, cutting off entirely for single people earning $80,000 and $160,000 for married couples.
But some people may not get the right amount, especially if they haven’t yet filed their 2020 tax returns. For instance, if a family had a baby last year but hasn’t yet filed their 2020 returns, the IRS would base their payments on their 2019 returns — which wouldn’t include their new baby. In that case, the family would receive $2,800 for themselves, but not the extra $1,400 for their child.
The IRS said people who are paid less than they should receive due to changes in their tax situation in 2020 will eventually receive the extra money. When they file their 2020 tax return, the IRS will check if they are owed more, such as in the case of a baby born last year. If that happens, the IRS will automatically issue the additional $1,400 check to the family, officials said.
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