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Stimulus checks have been mailed to over 13 million inactive bank accounts: Here's how to make sure you get yours

"The direct deposit went to the tax preparer's bank account, not theirs."

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The government began sending out second stimulus checks of up to $600 per person in late December, with officials saying most Americans could expect to receive direct deposits within the week and mailed checks or debit cards by the end of January.

But many people are reporting delays and other unexpected roadblocks in getting their money, including checks sent to old mailing addresses and funds deposited to inactive bank accounts. Tax preparation company Jackson Hewitt told The New York Times payments had been sent "to more than 13 million bank accounts that were no longer open or valid."

Here are three common problems.

1. Your check was routed to your tax preparer

"Some payments may have been sent to an account that may be closed or no longer active," the IRS announced in a statement Monday. A common cause: At tax time, preparers sometimes set up temporary bank accounts for clients who elect to get an advance on their refund or want to pay for their tax filing services using their refund. Those accounts belong to the tax preparer.

So when the IRS issues the refund, it "comes to the tax preparer's office. It doesn't come back to you," says Timothy Gagnon, an associate professor of accounting at Northeastern University.

In the case of these second stimulus payments, "the direct deposit went to the tax preparer's bank account, not theirs," says Gagnon.

Affected consumers may have some recourse from their tax preparer. In emailed statements, companies told Grow they are working to make sure customers get their stimulus payments. "We are partnering with the IRS to help taxpayers receive their payments as quickly as possible," wrote TurboTax spokesperson Ashley McMahon.

An H&R Block spokesman said the company "immediately deposited millions of stimulus payments to customers' bank accounts and onto our Emerald Prepaid Mastercard [Monday], and all direct deposits are being processed."

The worst-case scenario, per the IRS announcement: "If you have not received your full payment by the time you file your 2020 tax return, you may claim the Recovery Rebate Credit on your tax return."

2. You're seeing a 'Payment Status #2' error

Some taxpayers have reported seeing the message "Payment Status #2 – Not Available" when checking on the status of their stimulus using the IRS Get My Payment tool. Those who see this message will not receive a second stimulus check automatically, according to reporting by CNBC Make It.

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People in that situation will have to wait until they file their 2020 taxes to get their payment.

"The IRS advises people that if they don't receive their Economic Impact Payment, they should file their 2020 tax return electronically and claim the Recovery Rebate Credit on their tax return to get their payment and any refund as quickly as possible," the agency told Make It.

3. Your check was mailed to an old address

Some taxpayers logging onto the IRS website to check the status of their payment discovered their checks or debit cards are being mailed to old addresses. Remember, the IRS is using the latest information it has on file, and lots of people have moved during the pandemic.

Complicating matters, the USPS notes on its site that it has been experiencing "unprecedented volume increases and limited employee availability due to the impacts of Covid-19." That may affect how quickly your mail is forwarded.

If it looks like your check has yet to be mailed but the address on file is the wrong one, you can do two things to try and fix the mistake:

  1. Update your address with the IRS. That can be done in several ways, including contacting the IRS by phone, filling out Form 8822 for a change of address, or sending the IRS a written statement with your new address.
  2. Submit a permanent change of address request to USPS, which will forward all of the mail directed to your old address to your new one.

"I'd do it both ways," says Gagnon. Keep in mind, however, that a change may not be processed in time for the check to go out to the right address.

If your check was already sent to the incorrect address, "I would still get to the IRS and say it got mailed to the wrong place," he says. "When it comes back in they can get it sent out to the right place or maybe they have a process of a way to stop payment."

Grow senior writer Ryan Ermey contributed to reporting on this story.

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