Stimulus checks, tracking your money, plus-up payments: Everything to know

Stimulus checks, 'plus-up' payments and tracking your money: Everything to know

Out on a limb trying to figure out where your stimulus money is? Help is here. 


Sarah Tew/CNET

If you’re still waiting for your stimulus check, know that the IRS is not done sending them. Just in May, the IRS has made more than $7.3 billion in payments to those who are eligible, with new a batch of checks going out every week for up to $1,400 each. We’ll show you how to use the IRS tracker to get an idea of your payment schedule and if something is delaying your money.

On top of the third stimulus checks, the IRS is sending “plus-up” payments to those who qualify for the supplemental payment under the American Rescue Plan. Passed in March, that stimulus package also included the advance child tax credit and a tax exemption for 2020 unemployment benefits.

Here’s what you should know about reporting a stimulus check problem and when to file a payment trace. If you have dependents, look out for the advance child tax credit payments to begin in July — you can calculate how much you’ll receive here  — and learn more about the upcoming IRS portals for that credit. Also, we’re following the debate over a possible fourth stimulus payment. And here’s how to check if an employer owes you back wages you need to claim. This story is updated on a frequent basis.

Who’s getting the third stimulus checks and plus-up payments?

Over the last two weeks, the IRS has sent two batches of payments for more than $3.5 billion: $1.9 billion as paper checks in the mail and another $1.6 billion as direct deposits to bank accounts. These two batches also include 900,000 payments for $1.9 billion to eligible individuals the IRS didn’t have information for and who recently filed a tax return, along with two more rounds of plus-up payments for $1.6 billion.

What are plus-up stimulus payments? Depending on which year’s tax form the IRS used when it did the math on your third payment, the IRS may have calculated the amount of the payment using an older tax form instead of your 2020 filing. If this is your situation, once the IRS receives your 2020 tax return and calculates your third payment again, you could be due more money based on information from your current filing — or on other factors if you don’t usually file.

The IRS said it’s automatically sending these plus-up stimulus payments if it needs to square up the amount it owes you, but to double-check the math, you may want to confirm how much money you should expect this stimulus round, and then track your payment.

What is the IRS payment schedule for the third stimulus checks? 

Most of the third stimulus check payments have gone out from the IRS and US Department of the Treasury based on the information the IRS has on hand to determine payment amounts. This week, that includes 500,000 payments to those the IRS just received a tax return for. The March stimulus law, however, gives these federal agencies until Dec. 31, 2021, to send out all the third checks. That gives the IRS room to process 2020 tax returns and square up payments for those who are owed plus-up amounts, folks who filed for a 2020 tax extension and other groups, like people who moved or don’t have a fixed address (such as people experiencing homelessness).

If all or part of your stimulus check doesn’t arrive by then, you’ll need to claim missing money via a 2021 tax return in April 2022, a year from now. This would be similar to the Recovery Rebate Credit for claiming missing money from the first two checks, which is currently in effect for 2020 taxes.

Stimulus check payments made to date

Direct deposit Paper checks EIP Card Direct Express Card Plus-up
1st payment batch — March 17 90 million ($242 billion) 150,000 ($442 million) Not disclosed Not disclosed Not disclosed
2nd payment batch — March 24 17 million ($38 billion) 15 million ($34 billion) 5 million ($11 billion) Not disclosed Not disclosed
3rd payment batch, including Social Security — April 3 2 million ($5 billion) 2 million ($5 billion) Not disclosed Not disclosed Not disclosed
4th payment batch, including first plus-up payment — April 7 24 million ($33 billion) 1 million ($3 billion) Not disclosed 3.1 million 1 million ($2 million)
5th payment batch, including nonfiler veterans — April 14 1.2 million ($2 billion) 800,000 ($1.4 billion) Not disclosed Not disclosed 700,000 ($1.2 billion)
6th payment batch — April 21 900,000 ($1.5 billion) 1.1 million ($1.8 billion) Not disclosed Not disclosed 700,000 ($1.2 billion)
7th payment batch — April 28 1.1 million ($2.5 billion) 850,000 ($1.8 billion) Not disclosed Not disclosed 730,000 ($1.3 billion)
8th payment batch — May 5 600,000 ($1.1 billion) 500,000 ($900 million) Not disclosed Not disclosed 570,000 ($1 billion)
9th payment batch — May 12 500,000 ($946 million) 460,000 ($854 million) Not disclosed Not disclosed 460,000 ($800 million)
10th and 11th payment batches — May 19 and 26 900,000 ($1.6 billion) 900,000 ($1.9 billion) Not disclosed Not disclosed 900,000 ($1.6 million)

How can the IRS tracking tool tell you the status of your stimulus payment?

With the IRS Get My Payment tracker tool, you can get a daily update on the status of your payment. The online app can also alert you with a message if there’s a problem with your payment that you may need to address. It can’t, however, give an update on your plus-up payment status from the IRS.

If you expect your payment to come in the mail, you can use a free tool from the US Postal Service to track your mailed stimulus payment.

Is that IRS letter on the third payment worth keeping? 

We think you should hold on to that IRS letter signed by President Joe Biden that confirms your stimulus payment, including the amount and how the IRS sent your money. That letter from the IRS — Notice 1444-C — is your proof that the IRS sent a payment in case you don’t actually receive it or if you received less than you qualify for and need to claim the missing amount later. Here’s more on what to do with that IRS letter.


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Start here if there’s a problem with your stimulus payment

The IRS doesn’t want you to call if you encounter a problem with the delivery or amount of your stimulus check. So what to do instead? Our guide walks you through how to report stimulus check problems, including checks that never arrived (try filing a payment trace), direct deposit payments that went to the wrong account and other issues.

Why is there a delay with your stimulus check?

Here’s more information on problems you might encounter with your stimulus check.

Stimulus check delivery start and end dates

First direct deposits made March 17 (official)
First paper checks sent Week of March 15
First EIP cards sent Week of March 22
First Social Security, SSI, SSDI payment sent Weekend of April 3, most arriving April 7
First plus-up payments Weekend of April 3
VA benefits for veteran nonfilers Week of April 14
IRS deadline to finish sending checks Dec. 31, 2021 (mandated by the bill)
Last date to receive a check January 2022 (if mailed checks sent late December)
Final claims for missing stimulus money 2021 tax season likely (in 2022)

What if your check is less than you expected?

The IRS isn’t particularly big on communicating how much money it calculates for your stimulus check. You won’t find that figure in the agency’s online tracking tool, but you will see it in the confirmation letter you’ll receive in the mail. (And here’s why you got the payment size you did.) 

So what happens if you use our stimulus check calculator and notice the numbers seem way off, or the IRS letter quotes an amount you didn’t receive? Start by triple-checking your qualifications to make sure you’re eligible for the total you expect. Remember the IRS is automatically sending plus-up payments and that happens after the agency receives your 2020 tax return. If you had a baby or otherwise added a dependent in 2020, you won’t need to file an amended tax form to claim the supplement.

The IRS could open up claims for missing stimulus money before its Dec. 31 deadline to stop sending checks. If not, you might have to wait a year to claim it — when you file your 2021 taxes in 2022 (even if you’re a nonfiler who isn’t typically required to file taxes).

How does your 2020 tax return affect your payment total?

Taxes were due May 17. So how will the IRS figure out how much it owes you? It will calculate your total (you can also do that here) based on the most recent tax filing it’s processed when tabulating the amount of your stimulus check.

If you know your tax return was already processed, your total will likely be based on your 2020 adjusted gross income, not on your 2019 AGI. That presents complications if the difference between the two years disqualifies you from getting a third stimulus check

On the flip side, if the IRS uses your 2019 taxes and you’re owed more money based on your 2020 AGI and dependents, you could get a plus-up payment. If you got more money than you’re owed, you’ll only need to return it to the IRS in some cases. 

What if the IRS owes you for the first two stimulus checks?

Plus-up payments are going out weekly along with the third round of checks, but they may not be the only money you’re due. For money missing from the first two checks, you need to claim that on your 2020 taxes. We suggest making sure you also know where to find your adjusted gross income. Tax nonfilers may need to be proactive about claiming a new dependent, too.

009-cash-money-third-stimulus-checks-biden-federal-unemployment-1400-300-payments

Millions may wind up getting a smaller stimulus check than they’re actually owed.


Sarah Tew/CNET

What should SSI, SSDI recipients and veterans know?

Veterans receiving VA benefits and people who get SSDI and SSI benefits are now receiving stimulus checks from the IRS and Treasury. Delivery details should now be available in the Get My Payment tool

You might get your stimulus money by direct deposit to existing Direct Express cards if this is how you normally receive benefits, and if you didn’t file taxes in 2019 or 2020. Otherwise, the money could come in the mail (here’s what to look for so you know it’s legit). The SSA says that Social Security beneficiaries like SSI and SSDI groups will not receive an EIP debit card

If you’re a tax nonfiler and you used the IRS’ Non-Filers tool by November 2020 to submit information, you may have already received your check before other Social Security recipients. 


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Read more about rules and exceptions 

Stimulus checks aren’t necessarily a one-size-fits-all situation. Here are guides for:

Could there be a fourth stimulus check this year?

The American Rescue Plan had barely become law in March when lawmakers started pushing for a fourth stimulus check, either in the form of another one-time payment or as recurring payments for the duration of the pandemic. Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and 19 other members of the Senate earlier this spring sent a letter to Biden urging him to include recurring direct payments in his upcoming stimulus proposals.

Others in Washington, such as Rep. Pramila Jayapal, a Democrat from Washington, are proposing $1,000 recurring monthly payments to help those who continue to struggle through the pandemic.

Biden has not committed to another round of payments, and White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the administration will look to Congress for a proposal for a fourth payment.

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