The IRS has just days to send your stimulus check. Here’s what you should know


For many, receiving a second stimulus check before Jan. 15 will be a race against time.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The US government is busy. On Monday, House Democrats are reportedly set to begin the process to impeach President Donald Trump, and on Jan. 20, President-elect Joe Biden will be sworn into office. In between, the IRS and Treasury are scrambling to hit a Jan. 15 deadline to wrap up sending all the $600 stimulus payments they can — they’re moving so quickly, in fact, that there’s already been a major blunder. After that, people eligible for a payment will need to claim their missing stimulus money when they file their taxes later this year.

Though the IRS has already made approximately 80% of this second batch of stimulus payments through direct deposit and the mail — with paper checks and EIP cards — that still leaves 20% of folks waiting for their stimulus money. Start with the practicalities: Tracking your stimulus check status, following your payment to your mailbox and calculating your stimulus total.

Now, what is this IRS deadline, what’s the deal with direct deposit payment, and what do you do if you don’t receive your second stimulus check soon after Jan. 15? Read on. (And while you’re here, this is the IRS’ formula for your stimulus total, and everything we know about a third stimulus check.) We recently updated this story.

Why is Jan. 15 the stimulus check cutoff date?

The new $900 billion stimulus legislation sets Jan. 15 as the cutoff date to send stimulus payments. If you don’t receive your full second stimulus check money by then, you will need to claim all or part of the missing amount when you file your federal tax returns in this year as a Recovery Rebate Credit. You’ll also be able to claim any money the IRS still owes you from the first round of checks as a credit.

Some people who received their stimulus payment through direct deposit have run into problems. If you experience any issue or holdup with any of the three payment methods, it means you’ll have to wait until you file a claim — and take the extra step to do so.

Tying the delivery of a second stimulus check to the 2020 tax return will almost certainly delay the payment for many people, since a wide variance in circumstances will cause some to file taxes as early as January and others as late as April 15, or even later if they need to request an extension. It also isn’t clear how quickly the IRS would process payments as a Recovery Rebate Credit.

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Second stimulus checks: Everything you need to know


Direct deposit transfers are coming to a close

The IRS sent the first direct deposit payments on Dec. 29, saying that the payments will continue through the week. It isn’t clear if the IRS and Treasury will finish processing bank account transfers by then — at least the first round. People who have run into issues with direct deposit won’t be able to address them until tax season 2020.

While eligible individuals don’t need to do anything to receive the second payment — providing the IRS already has your banking or mailing information on file — you also can’t do much to influence getting a direct deposit over a mailed check. For example, you can’t register a new direct deposit account with the IRS or correct any banking information you have on file if you closed an account. If the IRS can’t deliver your payment, you’ll need to claim it on your taxes.

EIP cards and paper stimulus checks: In transit, but will some miss the deadline?

If the IRS doesn’t have your current direct deposit information on file, it will send the payment as a check or EIP debit card in the mail — they began going out Dec. 30. It isn’t clear if the IRS has time to process all the tens of millions of payments before Jan. 15. The IRS was able to process between 5 and 7 million a week with the first stimulus check, according to a government report from June.

It may be that some payments won’t make the Jan. 15 deadline. Here’s how you can track your status with the IRS and track your second stimulus check to your mailbox, for free, to set your expectations and to help prevent you from accidentally throwing it away. If you’ve moved recently, tell the IRS and USPS.


How you get your second stimulus check could also influence how soon your payment arrives.

Sarah Tew/CNET

You could get an EIP debit card this time instead of a check

The IRS is making 8 million payments through an Economic Impact Payment prepaid debit card, the agency told CNET in an email. That’s twice the number that was sent for the first stimulus check. Even if you got paid with a paper check the first time around, many more people might receive a debit card this time. On the flip side, some people who received a debit card last time may receive a paper check.

The IRS warns that those who are eligible but don’t receive a direct deposit should watch their mail for a check or EIP debit card. The debit cards will arrive in a white envelope that displays the US Department of the Treasury seal, the IRS said.

There are two ways to track your $600 stimulus payment

The IRS has reopened its online Get My Payment tracking tool with information on the second round of payments. With the free-to-use portal, those who qualify for a check can see the status of both the first and second payments. The website is available in English and Spanish. You can also use a free tool from the USPS to follow your check’s movements to your mailbox.

What’s the longest you might wait to get your new payment?

People who will receive their second stimulus check in the mail — either as a paper check or a prepaid debit card — should look for a payment anytime from now through Jan. 15. According to the Treasury, 22% of the payments as of last summer were made as paper checks and another 3% as prepaid debit cards

After Jan. 15, you will have to claim any money the IRS owes you with your tax filing in 2021. That could further delay your stimulus check, since the timing would depend on:

  • When you file your 2020 taxes — the deadline could be April 15, unless you file for an extension.
  • How long it takes the IRS to process your tax return, which may also include your second stimulus check.
  • If there are any complications that arise in your specific scenario that could further delay your check.

We’ll keep our eye on the situation, which is constantly evolving. Here’s how to calculate your estimated total now for a $600 per person maximum.