It’s bad enough if a new sweater you ordered on Amazon gets lost in the mail – but you’re really going to get mad if the post office loses your $600 stimulus check. What do you do then? Or what happens if your bank never receives your direct deposit stimulus payment from the IRS? Are you going to lose that money?
Fortunately, the IRS has a procedure to help. If your first-round ($1,200) or second-round ($600) stimulus payment is lost, stolen or destroyed, you can ask the IRS to perform a “payment trace” to see if your payment was cashed. In fact, you may need to request a trace in order to eventually get paid (assuming you’re eligible for a stimulus check). That’s the good news.
But there’s some less than thrilling news, too. First, whether or not your check was cashed, the IRS won’t reissue your payment. Instead, you’ll have to claim the amount you’re owed as a “recovery rebate” credit on your 2020 tax return, which means you won’t get your stimulus check money right away. Second, as with any government request, there’s a healthy list of procedures you must follow. Slip up on one of the steps, and you could find yourself in a bureaucratic black hole. But don’t worry. While dealing with the IRS can be intimidating, we’ll help you get through the process.
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Who Can Request a Payment Trace
You can track the status of your stimulus check using the IRS’s “Get My Payment” portal. If you’re getting a stimulus payment, this online tool will let you know how it will be delivered (e.g., paper check or direct deposit) and provide an estimated arrival date.
Also, after it processes your stimulus payment, the IRS will mail you a letter letting you know that a payment was sent to you. The letter is formally known as Notice 1444 for first-round stimulus checks and Notice 1444-B for second-round payments.
You can request a payment trace only if you haven’t received your stimulus payment and you:
- Get an IRS letter (Notice 1444 or 1444-B); or
- The “Get My Payment” tool shows your payment was issued.
Don’t request a payment trace to determine if you’re eligible for a payment or to confirm the amount of money you should have received.
When to Request a Payment Trace
If the “Get My Payment” tool or your Notice 1444/1444-B says that your payment was issued as a direct deposit into your bank account, you should first check with your bank before submitting a payment trace request to make sure they didn’t get a deposit. But wait at least five days after the estimated delivery date. Otherwise, the bank might not have the necessary information.
If you were scheduled to get a first-round paper stimulus check in the mail, the IRS can’t initiate a payment trace unless it has been:
- Four weeks since the check was mailed to a standard address;
- Six weeks since the check was mailed if you have a forwarding address on file with the local post office; or
- Nine weeks since the check was mailed to a foreign address.
For second-round payments, a payment trace isn’t allowed until:
- February 24, 2021, if the check was mailed to a standard address;
- March 10, 2021, if the check was mailed if you have a forwarding address on file with the local post office; or
- March 31, 2021, if the check was mailed to a foreign address.
(Note: If you have a foreign address, there may be international service disruptions at the U.S. Postal Service or the foreign country you’re in due to the COVID-19 pandemic. See the USPS Service Alerts website and check with your local consulate for more information.)
How to Request a Payment Trace
There are two ways to request a stimulus payment trace:
- Call the IRS at 800-919-9835; or
- Mail or fax a completed Form 3911 to the IRS.
Pick only one method (e.g., don’t submit Form 3911 if you have already requested a trace by phone). Also remember that you can’t request a payment trace before the timeframes described above – the IRS can’t process a request until after the appropriate time period has passed.
If you’re using Form 3911, make sure you:
- Write “EIP1” (first-round payment) or “EIP2” (second-round payment) on the top of the form to identify which payment you want to trace;
- Complete the form answering all refund questions as they relate to your stimulus payment;
- When completing item 7 under Section 1, check the box for “Individual” as the type of return, enter “2020” as the tax period, and don’t write anything for the date filed; and
- Sign the form (if you file a joint tax return, both spouses must sign the form).
Mail or fax the form to the appropriate address or fax number according to the chart below. Don’t send anything other than a Form 3911 to the fax numbers listed.
|If you live in…||then mail to this address…||or fax to…|
|Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont||Andover Internal Revenue Service
310 Lowell St.
Andover, MA 01810
|Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Virginia||Atlanta Internal Revenue Service
4800 Buford Hwy
Chamblee, GA 30341
|Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Texas||Austin Internal Revenue Service
3651 S Interregional Hwy 35
Austin, TX 78741
|New York||Brookhaven Internal Revenue Service
1040 Waverly Ave.
Holtsville, NY 11742
|Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin, Wyoming||Fresno Internal Revenue Service
5045 E Butler Avenue
Fresno, CA 93888
|Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, Ohio, West Virginia||Kansas City Internal Revenue Service
333 W Pershing Rd.
Kansas City, MO 64108
|Alabama, North Carolina, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee||Memphis Internal Revenue Service
5333 Getwell Rd.
Memphis, TN 38118
|District of Columbia, Idaho, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island||Philadelphia Internal Revenue Service
2970 Market St.
Philadelphia, PA 19104
|A foreign country, U.S. possession or territory, or use an APO or FPO address, or file Form 2555 or 4563, or are a dual-status alien.||Austin Internal Revenue Service
3651 S Interregional Hwy 35
Austin, TX 78741
What the IRS Will Do
You’ll generally receive a response about six weeks after the IRS receives your request for a payment trace (there could be delays due to limited IRS staffing). They will process your claim for a missing payment in one of two ways. If the check was not cashed, the IRS will reverse your payment. They’ll send you a notice, too. If the original check shows up later, you need to return it as soon as possible. You will then need to claim the “recovery rebate” credit on your 2020 tax return to receive your payment (assuming you’re eligible for the credit).
If the check was cashed, the U.S. Bureau of the Fiscal Service will send you a claim package that includes a copy of the cashed check. Follow the instructions in the packet. The bureau will review your claim and the signature on the canceled check before determining whether the payment can be reversed. If it is reversed, you will need to claim the “recovery rebate” credit on your 2020 return to get your money.
It’s very important that you submit a payment trace request as outlined above. Since the payment was issued to you, you could be deemed ineligible for the “recovery rebate” credit if you don’t request a trace.
Also, if you’re filing your 2020 tax return before your payment trace is complete, don’t include the payment amount on line 16 or 19 of the Recovery Rebate Credit Worksheet (the worksheet is in the instructions for Form 1040). You may receive a notice saying your recovery rebate credit was changed, but an adjustment will be made after the trace is complete and it’s determined your payment hasn’t been cashed. In that case, you won’t need to take any additional action to receive the credit.