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Still waiting on a stimulus check? Don't call the IRS and do look for a debit card, expert says

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) building in Washington, D.C.
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Over the last seven weeks, the Treasury Department and the IRS say they have issued approximately 152 million stimulus checks to Americans. The payments, which average roughly $1,800 per checkhave helped millions of people who are out of work or otherwise hurting for cash due to the coronavirus pandemic

But several million eligible Americans still have yet to receive a relief payment.

Stimulus payments will be sent out through early September, so there's a chance that yours hasn't been mailed or processed yet. To track down your payment, there are a few methods that have proven effective, but calling the IRS isn't one of them.

"Even in the best of times, the telephone lines at the IRS are overwhelmed," says Janet Holtzblatt, senior fellow at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center. "We don't know whether the operators can provide taxpayers with any more information about the status of their payments than what they learn (or don't learn) using the Get My Payment tool," the official IRS online payment tracking portal.

Instead of waiting on hold indefinitely, Holtzblatt suggests you ask yourself these questions to figure out why you may not have received your economic impact payment.

1. Was your 2018 or 2019 income too high?

If your earnings are above the income threshold, then you're not eligible for a stimulus payment and should not expect to receive one. This threshold varies depending on how you file your taxes. If you're a single filer, the threshold is $99,000; if you're married filing jointly it's $198,000; and if you're a single parent filing as "head of household" it's $136,500.

Figure out how much you should expect to get using our calculator.

The government bases your stimulus amount on your adjusted gross income, or your income minus certain deductions, that you reported on your most recent taxes. If you haven't filed your 2019 taxes yet, they'll use your 2018 return.

Individuals who earn up to $75,000 a year will be eligible for a maximum relief payment of $1,200. If your salary is more than $75,000 but less than $99,000, you're eligible for a reduced payment. The government will base the amount you receive on a sliding scale, with the amount falling by $5 for every $100 in income above $75,000.

If your income in 2018 or 2019 put you above the threshold to receive an economic impact payment, you may still receive a check after you file your 2020 tax return. "You can claim the payment when you file your 2020 tax return next year if your income fell this year and made you eligible," Holtzblatt explains. 

2. Do you have direct deposit set up with the IRS?

The IRS gave taxpayers until May 13 to provide the agency with their bank account and routing numbers so they could receive their stimulus payments via direct deposit. If you didn't provide the IRS with your correct bank information, you'll likely receive a check — or a prepaid debit card — by mail, and that could be the reason for the delay, Holtzblatt says. More on those debit cards, below.

3. Did someone claim you as a dependent?

If you earned income last year or the year before, but your parent or guardian claimed you as a dependent on their latest tax return, you won't be eligible for a economic impact payment this year, says Holtzblatt.

Your parent is eligible to receive up to an additional $500 per dependent child as long as that child meets the government's eligibility requirements. 

If you aren't claimed as a dependent in 2020, you could receive an economic impact payment after next year's tax cycle, Holtzblatt explains. "You may be able to claim the payment on your 2020 tax return if your [dependency] status changed this year," she says. 

4. Would you have been ineligible based on your 2018 income but eligible in 2019?

If this is the case, there might be a delay in getting your payment, especially if you filed your 2019 tax return by mail, Holtzblatt says. 

How to spend a stimulus check if you're employed

Video by Jason Armesto

5. Was your latest tax refund held up because of a question about your income or dependents?

If so, it's possible, depending on your tax situation, that you won't get a payment at all or your payment will be delayed, Holtzblatt says. 

6. Is your income close to the cut-off for eligibility?

"The IRS is sending checks to people with lower income first," she explains. So if your income was just below the $99,000 threshold for receiving a stimulus check, that could be the reason your payment is taking longer to be distributed. 

7. Did you recently get a mystery debit card in the mail?

"Yay, that is your payment!" says Hotzblatt. Last week, the government began sending out economic impact payments as prepaid debit cards. Approximately 4 million Americans will receive these debit cards instead of paper checks, according to the IRS. 

These Visa cards are being issued by the U.S. Treasury Department's financial agent called MetaBank, and they're being delivered in plain envelopes from a sender listed as "Money Network Cardholder Services." 

Unfortunately, like many other Americans, you might have mistaken your stimulus debit card for junk mail, says Hotzblatt. "Did you tear up that debit card thinking it was a scam? Don't feel bad — I would have too."

If you unknowingly threw away your debit card, go to the Money Network economic impact payment website's FAQ page for instructions on what to do next, says Hotzblatt. 

"My advice probably will not satisfy people who need the money now but have not yet received it," she says. The best thing you can do at this point is "be patient."

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