If you’ve spent the better part of January wondering when your $600 federal stimulus check will arrive, be warned: There’s no easy answer as to when you might get the money.
It could be slowly making its way through the U.S. postal system. Or you may have to wait until you file your 2020 tax returns, which the IRS won’t start processing until Feb. 12.
“If it doesn’t show up, claim it on your return,” said Eric Smith, an IRS spokesman. “We don’t want people waiting to file if it hasn’t gotten there.”
Marc Hoffman, the self-employed owner of Rocky Mountain Bar League, which organizes games such as cornhole and bowling in bars, likely will have to claim it as a Rebate Recovery Credit on his 2020 federal tax return.
In April, when he didn’t receive the first pandemic stimulus payment, he was able to go on the IRS website and fill out a form to claim it. This time, that option is not available. It appears a check was never mailed because Hoffman doesn’t see any record of it on his IRS account — and even if it was, Hoffman has moved twice since the pandemic started.
If he is due a 2020 refund, the stimulus will be included in that total. If he owes money to the government, the $600 will be applied toward that balance, according to the IRS website and tax professionals.
“Whether it’s $600 in my hand or $600 being taken off my potential tax bill, it’s $600 either way,” Hoffman said. “It still feels like I’m not getting it to begin with.”
The payments are intended to inject a shot of adrenaline into an economy wrecked by the pandemic. The first round of stimulus sent payments to 2.7 million Colorado residents beginning last April and funneled $4.6 billion into the state’s economy, according to IRS data. The impact will be less on the second round because the payment amount was cut in half.
The IRS aimed to send the second round of money within days of the president’s Dec. 27 signature on the economic stimulus package approved by Congress. But the quick turnaround was complicated by the IRS’s annual preparations for tax season, during which the agency must update its computers and forms to reflect last-minute changes in tax laws.
The first official wave of payments went out the first week of January. Additional payments continue to roll out, Smith said.
“In general terms, we were trying very much to deliver as many payments as possible as quickly as possible,” he said. “We didn’t have much time to work on it.”
Last week, President Joe Biden signed an executive order that launched a widespread government effort to get the payments into as many hands as fast as possible. One of those requirements is for the U.S. Treasury Department to set up an online claims system for Americans who do not file tax returns, generally elderly and low-income people. The order also required more outreach to those who do not speak English, according to a Treasury Department fact sheet.
The rollout, though, has been clunky. While some people received the payments via direct deposit early in January, others are waiting because of a sluggish postal system. Some people who received direct deposits in April are now being sent checks for no explicable reason. And then there was an IRS error that delayed payments earlier this month for millions of TurboTax users.
“It’s a challenge,” Henry Grzes, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants leader on tax practice and ethics, said. “I know people really need this and you want to get it to them as quickly as possible.”
When Congress wrote the rules for the most recent stimulus package, the income eligibility on the stimulus payment changed. So some people who reported annual earnings above $75,000 on their 2019 income taxes and got a check in 2020 may not get one in the second round. The AARP estimates individuals who earned more than $87,000 in 2019, couples that made more than $174,000, and head of households who earned more than $124,500 may not get payments in the second round, according to its website.
Rather than direct deposit or checks, some people will receive debit cards and there have been reports of people tossing them in the trash after mistaking them for unsolicited credit cards. Those Visa cards, issued by MetaBank, arrive in a white envelope with a U.S. Department of the Treasury seal, the Treasury’s website says.
Then there’s the issue with what information the IRS has on file for each taxpayer. If a person closed a bank account or moved since filing 2019 returns, then the money likely won’t be coming until its claimed on a tax form.
That is the case for Megan Ives, 25.
She received her spring stimulus via direct deposit. This time, the IRS says it was mailed on Jan. 6 but to an old address. Attempts to track its whereabouts have been unsuccessful despite Ives’ careful study of the IRS “Get My Payment Frequently Asked Questions” webpage.
“The first stimulus was a direct deposit to my bank account and I have no idea why this one would be a check in the mail,” she said.
The IRS says some banks rejected the direct deposits because of incorrect routing numbers, although Ives said her account has not changed.
The check still could show up in Ives’ mailbox. But if someone plucked it from the mail and cashed it, she could end up in a back-and-forth with the IRS to prove she never received the money, Grzes said.
Grzes said he would advise anyone who hasn’t received a check or debit card by the time they file taxes to claim the recovery rebate on their returns. This includes low-income and elderly people who typically don’t file taxes.
“This right now is the only avenue you have to claim this credit,” he said.
Ives is steadily employed as a policy analyst at a criminal justice reform nonprofit and isn’t relying on the money to pay bills. She even donated part of her first stimulus payment. But she understands the bubbling frustration from those who need the money.
“It’s just such a bummer,” Ives said. “I’m sure the people who really need the money right now don’t have the resources and time to easily navigate this.”
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