By Ron Lieber and Tara Siegel Bernard
For the third time in less than a year, the federal government is sending stimulus payments to millions of Americans, no small logistical feat. But that doesn’t mean it will go smoothly for everyone.
Some 90 million payments — totaling about $242.2 billion — are landing in bank accounts via direct deposit Wednesday, the Treasury Department said. An additional 150,000 payments should also arrive shortly, in the form of paper checks. And still more will go out in the coming weeks.
The payments — a maximum of $1,400 — are the largest issued to date, and eligibility has been expanded to dependent adults, including college students. As with previous rounds of pandemic stimulus, many banks are making the full amount of the payments available to customers, even if the money went into overdrawn accounts.
But there could still be bumps ahead for some recipients. The fast phase-outs of payments mean people might receive less than they would have under prior rounds, or no payment at all. The legislative process that Congress used to pass the bill has left payments vulnerable to private debt collectors. Your payment could arrive in a different form this time. And the eligibility rules mean you may (or may not) be allowed to keep a payment issued for a now-deceased spouse.
There’s even been confusion in recent days about the timing of the payments, after some financial institutions chose to make the money available before the government actually began delivering it Wednesday.
After President Joe Biden signed the stimulus bill last week, the IRS, which is pushing out the payments for the Treasury, began sending notices that the relief payments would arrive March 17. But a handful of online institutions, including Current and Chime, credited their customers in advance of the payments’ arrival.
Some customers of traditional banks took notice — or at least hoped the money would arrive over the weekend — and complained on social media that their institutions hadn’t made the money available sooner.
But nine banking and credit union industry groups said in a statement this week that the IRS had determined the details of the deposits and their handling.
“It is up to the sender, in this case the IRS, to decide when it wants the money to be made available and the IRS chose March 17,” they said.
Demand for information hardly slowed Wednesday: Wells Fargo said heavy traffic had temporarily caused problems for its online banking service. “This does not affect stimulus payments with March 17 effective date, which were credited to accounts today,” the company said in a statement.
For this round, payments top out at $1,400 per person, including children and adult dependents. To qualify for the full amount, a single person must have an adjusted gross income of $75,000 or below. For heads of household, adjusted gross income must be $112,500 or less, and for married couples filing jointly that number has to be $150,000 or below.
Partial payments are available to people who earn more, but they fall quickly to zero. For single filers, the checks stop at $80,000. For heads of household, the cutoff is $120,000. And for joint filers, it’s $160,000.
The payment amounts depend on the most recent information on file with the IRS, which could be from your 2019 tax return if you haven’t yet filed for 2020. (If you’re newly eligible for a payment based on your 2020 income but haven’t yet filed your return, the IRS will be able to continue making payments until September. And if you still don’t end up with a payment by then, you can make a claim when you file your 2021 taxes.)
You can find information on the status of your payment by using the IRS’s Get My Payment tool. If the agency has your bank account information, the money should show up automatically if you’re eligible. If you receive veterans’ benefits or Social Security payments, whether for retirement or disability, the IRS will generally send payments the same way you normally get that money. The agency said it planned to announce a payment date for these groups “shortly.”
People who don’t regularly file a tax return that includes any bank account information should keep an eye on the mail for a paper check or a debit card. But just because your previous two payments arrived one way doesn’t mean this one will arrive the same way, according to the IRS, which may send debit cards to ensure that payments are available to recipients more quickly. (If you received a payment on a debit card before, the IRS has already said that it would issue new cards for this payment instead of adding money to the old one.)
In prior stimulus rounds, some recipients have been confused to see their payments destined for unfamiliar accounts — often because they used tax-preparation services that created temporary accounts to receive their refunds. Both H&R Block and Intuit’s TurboTax have posted messages attempting to reassure customers who previously experienced glitches or delays.
Another problem some people encountered in prior rounds: payments addressed to deceased relatives.
If your spouse or dependent died this year, even before Biden signed the bill, you can keep the payment that arrives for them, according to an IRS spokesman. But if they died in 2020, they are not supposed to be eligible. For instructions on how to return any payment that nevertheless arrives for them, visit the IRS website on the page with the phrase “Returning the Economic Impact Payment.”
The bill that authorized this round of payments shields them from government-ordered seizure — for example, if you’re in default on your federal student loans or late with child support payments, according to a Senate Finance Committee spokeswoman.
But private debt collectors can still make a run at the money, which wasn’t the case with the first two rounds of payments. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., chairman of the Finance Committee, said Senate rules had prevented the inclusion of such a provision in the bill. On Wednesday, several senators introduced stand-alone legislation to fix the problem.
Even so, some entities that might otherwise take a piece of your payment could give you a break, at least temporarily. Bank of America, Capital One, Citibank, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo all said that their customers would have full and immediate access to the payments once they hit their accounts, even if their balances are below zero.
Copyright 2021 The New York Times Company