Average stimulus check was $1,800 but it wasn't enough, study finds, and 25% of people had issues

Chip Somodevilla | Getty Images

One in four people say they have experienced a problem with their economic impact payments, popularly known as stimulus checks, according to a June MagnifyMoney survey of more than 1,000 Americans. 

As of early June, approximately 159 million economic impact payments have been issued as part of the CARES Act, according to the most recent data from the Treasury Department and the IRS. But for many Americans, the checks, which average around $1,800 per adult, have been a headache, the survey finds. 

For most recipients, the economic impact payments weren't all that helpful in supplementing lost income due to the coronavirus pandemic, either, it reports. Nearly 15% of recipients said the money "didn't make a dent," while another 48% said it helped a little bit. Only 39% appeared satisfied, reporting that it helped "significantly." 

These checks, of as much as $1,200 for qualifying adults and $500 for each dependent child, were sent to Americans starting in April and arrived via direct deposit, paper check, or a prepaid debit card. "For many, the economic impact payment process has not happened without a hitch," Sarah Berger, writer at LendingTree (which is owned by MagnifyMoney), wrote in summarizing the survey results.

Here are the three most commonly reported issues, according to MagnifyMoney, along with solutions from experts. 

1. Qualified for a check but never received one

More than 40% of survey respondents who had an issue said they qualified for an economic impact payment but never received one. Before you assume you qualify, it's important to confirm that you actually do, Janet Holtzblatt, senior fellow at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center told Grow in May.

"Go through a mental checklist to determine if you are eligible," according to Holtzblatt. She says the following five questions can help you figure out if you actually qualify and why yours might be held up: 

  1. What was the adjusted gross income you reported on your most recent taxes? The amount you reported could be the reason your stimulus check is delayed, since the government prioritized sending low-income Americans checks first.
  2. Did someone else claim you as a dependent on their latest tax return? This could make you ineligible to receive a economic impact payment. 
  3. Did you file your latest tax return by paper? People who have filed paper returns have reported longer wait times for receiving stimulus checks. 
  4. Do you have direct deposit set up with the IRS? If you don't, you'll be mailed a paper check, which takes longer for the government to disperse. Or, you might have received a debit card with your economic impact payment, which many Americans have accidentally thrown away. 
  5. Was your latest tax refund held up because of a question about your income or dependents? If the IRS had questions about your tax return or if you owe child support, that could be what's causing your payment delay. 

Finally, double check your expectations by figuring out your eligibility by using Grow's stimulus check calculator

2. Received a stimulus check for too much

The second most commonly reported problem, according to MagnifyMoney, was that nearly a quarter of survey participants received a stimulus check that they qualified for but the amount was greater than it should have been. 

Luckily, if you received more money than you were expecting, the general consensus is that the IRS won't come asking for any of it back, Carolyn McClanahan, a certified financial planner and the director of financial planning for Life Planning Partners in Jacksonville, Florida, told Grow in April.

The official IRS guide to stimulus checks appears to confirm this, stating that "there is no provision in the law requiring repayment of a payment."

3. Received a stimulus check for too little 

On the other end of the spectrum, 15% of respondents to the MagnifyMoney survey reported that their economic impact payment was less than it should have been. 

When you file your 2020 taxes, this discrepancy should be remedied, Holtzblatt told Grow last month. If you didn't qualify for an economic impact payment this spring, or if your stimulus check wasn't for the full amount, that doesn't mean you won't receive more aid later, she said. 

How to spend a stimulus check if you're unemployed

Video by Jason Armesto

Many Americans found that the pandemic's economic impact didn't reduce their income until this year. Since the government only took into account the income you reported in 2018 or 2019, they'll have to account for 2020 when you file your taxes in the spring, Holtzblatt explains.

If your adjusted gross income in 2020 shows that you met the government's stimulus criteria, you'll be able to claim the remaining portion of the tax credit you were eligible for on this year's tax return. 

While there has been talk of a second round of stimulus checks among government officials, it seems back-to-work bonuses will come before, or maybe instead of, another payment. "I think we're going to seriously look at whether we want to do more direct money to stimulate the economy," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on June 10. "But this is going to be all about getting people back to work."

More from Grow: