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Stimulus check money doesn’t grow on trees, but if you unexpectedly receive a plus-up payment, it might feel that way. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

While a fourth direct stimulus payment remains under debate in Washington, the third checks and extra “plus-up” money are still in season. The most recent round of 2.3 million payments amounted to $4.2 billion total. Next month, qualifying families will also be receiving another kind of stimulus cash: advance monthly payments for the 2021 expanded child tax credit. 

On top of sending out tax refunds (with some delays), the IRS is issuing plus-up payments to those who didn’t get the correct amount of their stimulus check. That could be due to a calculation error with the IRS, but not necessarily. If the IRS reviews your tax forms and determines that you in fact qualify for a larger share of stimulus money than was disbursed, the agency owes you the difference. 

If your $1,400 never arrived, we’ll explain how to track the status of your payment and report a problem. We can also help you calculate your upcoming child tax credit payments, explain three ways to know if you qualify and why two letters from the IRS could land in your mailbox. As for other personal finance news, the IRS sending unemployment tax refunds to millions. This story gets frequent updates.

Stimulus checks and plus-up payments are still being sent

The IRS Is making weekly batches of payments, and included in this latest wave are 900,000 checks for a total of $1.9 billion to those who recently filed a tax return, allowing the IRS to determine they were eligible for a payment. The IRS also sent in the batch of 1.1 million plus-up payments, for more than $2.5 billion.

What are plus-up stimulus payments? Depending on which year’s tax form the IRS used when it did the math on your third payment, the IRS may have calculated the amount of the payment using an older tax form instead of your 2020 filing. If this is your situation, once the IRS receives your 2020 tax return and calculates your third payment again, you could be due more money based on information from your current filing — or other factors if you don’t usually file.

The IRS said it’s automatically sending these plus-up payments if it needs to square up the amount it owes you, but to double-check the math, you may want to confirm how much money you should expect this stimulus round and then track your payment.

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How to track your stimulus payment online

With the IRS Get My Payment tool, you can get a daily update on your payment status. The online app can also alert you with a message if there’s a problem with your payment that you may need to address. It can’t, however, give updates on your plus-up payment from the IRS.

If you expect your payment to come in the mail, you can use a free tool from the US Postal Service to track your mailed stimulus payment.

What is causing delays in your stimulus payment

Here’s more information on problems you might encounter with your stimulus check.

How to report a problem with a stimulus check

The IRS doesn’t want you to call if you encounter a problem with the delivery or amount of your stimulus check. So what to do instead? Our guide walks you through how to report stimulus check problems, including checks that never arrived (try filing a payment trace), direct deposit payments that went to the wrong account and other issues.

Stimulus check delivery start and end dates

First direct deposits made

March 17 (official)

First paper checks sent

Week of March 15

First EIP cards sent

Week of March 22

First Social Security, SSI, SSDI payment sent

Weekend of April 3, most arriving April 7

First plus-up payments

Weekend of April 3

VA benefits for veteran nonfilers

Week of April 14

IRS deadline to finish sending checks

Dec. 31, 2021 (mandated by the bill)

Last date to receive a check

January 2022 (if mailed checks sent late December)

Final claims for missing stimulus money

2021 tax season likely (in 2022)

If your stimulus check is less money than you expected

The IRS isn’t particularly big on communicating how much money it calculates for your stimulus check. You won’t find that figure in the agency’s online tracking tool, but you will see it in the confirmation letter you’ll receive in the mail. (And here’s why you got the payment size you did.) 

So what happens if you use our stimulus check calculator and notice the numbers seem way off, or the IRS letter quotes an amount you didn’t receive? Start by triple-checking your qualifications to make sure you’re eligible for the total you expect. Remember the IRS is automatically sending plus-up payments and that happens after the agency receives your 2020 tax return. If you had a baby or otherwise added a dependent in 2020, you won’t need to file an amended tax form to claim the supplement.

The IRS could open up claims for missing stimulus money before its Dec. 31 deadline to stop sending checks. If not, you might have to wait a year to claim it — when you file your 2021 taxes in 2022 (even if you’re a nonfiler who isn’t typically required to file taxes).

Update on a fourth economic impact payment

Millions have been clamoring for recurring stimulus payments, and some lawmakers have expressed support for more relief aid through the pandemic. But President Joe Biden hasn’t pledged support to a fourth check, focusing instead on his proposed American Families Plan and American Jobs Plan. 

In a press conference on June 3, White House press secretary Jen Psaki played down the possibility of a fourth stimulus payment, asserting that the administration has already put forward an economic recovery plan. We’ll continue to follow the debate in Washington over additional economic impact payments.

The deal with the IRS letter on the third payment

We think you should hold on to that IRS letter that confirms your stimulus payment, including the amount and how the IRS sent your money. That letter from the IRS — Notice 1444-C — is your proof that the IRS sent a payment in case you don’t actually receive it or if you received less than you qualify for and need to claim the missing amount later. Here’s more on what to do with that IRS letter.

How 2020 tax returns relate to stimulus payments

Taxes were due May 17. So how will the IRS figure out how much it owes you? It will calculate your total (you can also do that here) based on the most recent tax filing it’s processed when tabulating the amount of your stimulus check.

If you know your tax return was already processed, your total will likely be based on your 2020 adjusted gross income, not on your 2019 AGI. That presents complications if the difference between the two years disqualifies you from getting a third stimulus check. 

On the flip side, if the IRS uses your 2019 taxes and you’re owed more money based on your 2020 AGI and dependents, you could get a plus-up payment. If you got more than you’re owed, you’ll only need to return it to the IRS in some cases. 

When stimulus checks could arrive this year

Most of the third stimulus check payments have gone out from the IRS and US Department of the Treasury, based on the information the IRS has on hand to determine payment amounts. The March stimulus law, however, gives these federal agencies until Dec. 31, 2021, to send out all the third checks. That gives the IRS room to process 2020 tax returns and square up payments for those who are owed plus-up amounts, folks who filed for a 2020 tax extension and other groups, like people who moved or don’t have a fixed address (such as people experiencing homelessness).

If all or part of your stimulus check doesn’t arrive by the end of the year, you’ll need to claim missing money via a 2021 tax return in April 2022, a year from now. This would be similar to the Recovery Rebate Credit for claiming missing money from the first two checks, which is currently in effect for 2020 taxes.

Stimulus check payments made to date

Direct deposit

Paper checks

EIP Card

Direct Express Card

Plus-up

No. of payments March 17 to May 12

137.3 million ($331 billion)

21.8 million ($48.4 billion)

5 million ($11 billion)

3.1 million

4.1 million ($7.5 billion)

No. of payments May 19 and 26

900,000 ($1.6 billion)

900,000 ($1.9 billion)

900,000 ($1.6 million)

No. of payments June 2 and 9

1.2 million ($2.2 billion)

1.1 million ($2 billion)

1.1 million ($2.5 billion)

If the IRS owes you money for prior stimulus checks

Plus-up payments are going out weekly along with the third round of checks, but they may not be the only money you’re due. For money missing from the first two checks, you need to claim that on your 2020 taxes. We suggest making sure you also know where to find your adjusted gross income. Tax nonfilers may need to be proactive about claiming a new dependent, too.

Millions could end up receiving a smaller stimulus check than they’re owed.

Sarah Tew/CNET
What SSI, SSDI recipients and veterans need to know

Veterans receiving VA benefits and people who get SSDI and SSI benefits are now receiving stimulus checks from the IRS and Treasury. Delivery details should now be available in the Get My Payment tool. 

You might get your stimulus money by direct deposit to existing Direct Express cards if this is how you normally receive benefits, and if you didn’t file taxes in 2019 or 2020. Otherwise, the money could come in the mail. (Here’s what to look for so you know it’s legit.) The SSA says that Social Security beneficiaries like SSI and SSDI groups will not receive an EIP debit card. 

If you’re a tax nonfiler and used the IRS’ Non-Filers tool by November 2020 to submit information, you may have already received your check. 

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Other exceptions and rules

Stimulus checks aren’t necessarily a one-size-fits-all situation. Here are guides for:

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