Stimulus checks are starting to go out — here's when you could get yours


Federal stimulus payments are due to start going out this week and, if the IRS has your direct deposit information on file, you should get your money fairly quickly. If you've opted in the past to receive your tax refund as a paper check, you'll probably have to wait a bit longer. The last round of payments may take as long as five months to go out.

The latest congressional estimate has the first batch of checks going out on May 4, about three weeks after the first direct deposits. Americans with lower incomes will get priority, meaning they are likely to receive their money first. The IRS has also launched a tool called Get My Payment, which will help taxpayers track their payment status and enter their banking information for direct deposit. 

The specifics of how many recipients are in each batch of payments, and how many batches there will be, remains murky, though, according to Mark Mazur, the Robert C. Pozen director of the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center and a former assistant secretary for tax policy in the Obama administration. 

An analysis by MagnifyMoney suggests that residents of some areas may have to wait longer for their relief than others, based on the proportion of taxpayers in the 100 largest metro areas who receive paper checks. "Cities with the highest percentages of check-receiving taxpayers are where people will likely wait longer for financial relief to arrive," the site reports, since a greater volume of checks could slow down processing times. Check recipients in California, the Northeast, and the Upper Midwest could wait longer than check recipients in the South, for example.

Metro areas likely to get their stimulus payments quickly

These metro areas have the biggest share of taxpayers who signed up for direct deposit for their 2018 tax refund, according to MagnifyMoney.

  1. Tulsa, Oklahoma (90.4%)
  2. Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (90.2%)
  3. El Paso, Texas (89.5%)
  4. Virginia Beach, Virginia (89.1%)
  5. Omaha, Nebraska (88%)
  6. Knoxville, Tennessee (87.9%)
  7. Fayetteville, Arkansas (87.8%)
  8. Davenport, Iowa (87.8%)
  9. Pensacola, Florida (87.7%)
  10. Johnson City, Tennessee (87.6%)
  11. Atlanta, Georgia (87.4%)
  12. Nashville, Tennessee (87.3%)

Metro areas that may have to wait longer for stimulus payments

These metro areas have the biggest share of taxpayers who opted to receive a paper check for their 2018 tax refund, according to MagnifyMoney, meaning the IRS does not have their direct deposit information on file.

  1. Visalia, California (25.9%)
  2. Fresno, California (23.4%)
  3. Wausau, Wisconsin (22.7%)
  4. San Francisco, California (22.6%)
  5. Modesto, California (22.2%)
  6. Springfield, Massachusetts (21.7%)
  7. Boston, Massachusetts (21.5%)
  8. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (21%)
  9. Appleton, Wisconsin (20.3%)
  10. Sacramento, California (20.1%)
  11. New York, New York (20.1%)
  12. Los Angeles, California (20%)

Regardless of where you live, you can speed up the process

The first payments will be processed and sent out on a schedule similar to the IRS timeline for processing tax refunds. Typically, people who mail in their returns should expect to wait about six weeks for their refund, while e-filers should get their money in about half that time, according to TurboTax.

Since five months is a long time to wait for relief, it's good to remember that you're more likely to get your money promptly if the IRS has your direct deposit information. The agency can distribute money much faster digitally than through the mail.

If you've already filed your 2019 return and gotten your refund via direct deposit, there's a good chance you'll be one of the first people to receive a stimulus payment, says Janet Holtzblatt, senior fellow at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center.

"It doesn't seem that slow in general, because they're pushing some things out within three weeks, which is extremely fast," says Mark Prendergast, certified public accountant and the director of tax strategies at Inspired Financial in Huntington Beach, California. "And it's really the people they don't have direct deposit information [for] that it's more difficult to get money in their hands."

If you have direct deposit set up, Mazur believes that your physical location should have little to no bearing on when you'll receive your payment, since much of the actual processing work is done electronically by the Treasury. "Direct deposit payments should go out independent of the paper checks," he says. "If you live in a place that has lots of paper checks, you're still going to get your direct deposits with everybody else's direct deposit."

Here's what you can do if you don't have direct deposit with the IRS.

  1. If you haven't filed your 2019 return yet, do so as soon as possible and opt to receive your refund via direct deposit. "File your tax return soon," Holtzblatt previously told Grow. Otherwise, the IRS will use your 2018 return to determine the size of your stimulus payment and the delivery method.
  2. If you're not legally required to file a tax return, you can still send your direct deposit info directly to the IRS through the agency's web portal. If you've already filed and opted to receive a paper check, you can do this with the IRS Get My Payment tool. TurboTax has also built a free stimulus registration site where you can upload your banking information and mailing address.
  3. If you're eligible for Social Security and you currently receive checks, you can opt into direct deposit and enter your banking info on the Social Security Administration's website. The IRS will use that information to deposit the money into your account.

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