The above image has become a daily, familiar, and vexing sight to many including myself. Millions of eligible Americans have still seen no stimulus money even though the government began distributing the payments almost two weeks ago. When the mainstream news media covers this problem at all, it tends to cover only one small part of it and then regurgitates advice provided by the IRS which is inaccurate.
It seems that when there’s anything approaching comprehensive coverage of many people's current reality as it relates to the stimulus debacle, it’s in some obscure special-interest publication like this Accounting Today article.
As far as I can tell, there was a massive caveat to receiving stimulus payments that the government failed to explain or even mention to the public and which the media never thought to clarify in the time leading up to the distribution: To receive a direct deposit to your banking account, it wasn’t enough to have filed a tax return for 2018 or 2019, you must have received a refund in one of those years. There seemed to be an automatic assumption that everyone receives a refund.
Millions of taxpayers like me, who paid taxes owed in 2018 or ’19, undoubtedly took the government’s line at face value: If you filed taxes in one of those years, and your income met the eligibility criteria, you “wouldn’t have to do anything” to receive an automatic deposit as long as the IRS had your banking information.
When several days in a row of checking my account and trying the useless “Get My Payment” tool yielded nothing, I learned the above fact from a Google search that turned up this post from an obscure Atlanta news site and the following email from my 2018 tax preparer, FreeTaxUSA:
Thank you for contacting Customer Support. I sincerely apologize for the frustration you have experienced.
The IRS will not send Payments to accounts used to make a payment to the IRS. After you properly verify your identity, the Get My Payment tool will allow you to submit your bank account information if your Payment has not been processed.
In situations where payment status is not available, the app will respond with Status Not Available.
Which begs the question: Why did I have to find out this way? There is nothing, at least that I have been able to find, on the IRS website that explains this.
The media reports dealing with stimulus payment snafus have generally focused on people who used the tax filing services TurboTax or H&R Block to receive their refunds who aren’t getting their payments because of the way those refunds were handled. But that still doesn’t tell the whole story. If you did not receive a refund in either 2018 or 2019, then it doesn’t matter whether you did your own taxes or used a third-party service. It also doesn’t matter that you used the same bank account to pay taxes that you would use to receive a refund.
There are millions of self-employed, fixed-income and other people in the United States who either owe tax to the IRS when they file their taxes, or neither owe nor are eligible to receive a refund. Most of them are likely unpaid as of this writing.
This situation has resulted in the absurd scenario where millions of Americans who have not suffered a loss or even any hit to their income during the pandemic lockdown, but who received tax refunds in the past two filing years, are $1,200 richer thanks to their coronavirus “bonus” check, while other folks who could desperately use the money to pay everyday bills are left out in the cold and wondering when, if ever, they will see these funds.
The ‘Get My Payment’ feature doesn’t work
If anyone has been able to successfully use the Get My Payment tool on the IRS website, I would dearly love to know. Without exception, every article I’ve read about stimulus payment issues tells the reader to go to this tool to put in their bank account information or their current address. That’s when you get this:
Then the articles will invariably tell you, regurgitating IRS content, that if you see this message it means that:
a) You aren’t eligible because you earned too much
b) You didn’t file a return in either 2018 or 2019
c) You received SSI, SSA or VA benefits
d) You are inputting your personal information incorrectly
This is surely Dante’s Seventh Circle of Hell.
At this point, I’m beginning to think the shutdown will be over or nearly over before many eligible Americans ever see their stimulus money. They’re saying paper checks could take several months to arrive, even if the IRS has your current address which isn’t the case for me and many others.
I’m one of the lucky ones. Many out-of-work people have also been unable to successfully file for unemployment benefits and small businesses have been shut out of bailout loans.
And now there’s reports about a second round of stimulus payments being debated - when they couldn’t get the first round right. Even more bonus checks for the still-employed.