After Democrats' 11th-hour attempt to increase the second direct stimulus payment to $2,000, Americans will receive only $600 from the long-awaited COVID relief package that Congress passed in late December. For the people who have been most financially impacted by the pandemic, this stimulus is like using a Band-Aid on a bullet wound, but at least Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin promised that the money would be sent out quickly. In fact, millions of Americans started off 2021 with a deposit from the IRS already in their bank account. But, if you don't have the $600 yet, is there anything you should do right now to fix that?
People who have already received the second stimulus check (or are about to) probably also received the first stimulus payment via direct deposit — it's more likely that your payment is delayed if you're getting it mailed as a check. For the first stimulus payments, the IRS either accessed direct deposit information they already had from people who previously filed their taxes online or allowed some Americans to set up direct deposit online so that the money could arrive in their bank accounts more quickly. The deadline for that has long passed, however, and it's not clear that the IRS has plans to open up registration again. Something to note is that if you no longer use the bank account you previously filed your taxes with or used to receive your first stimulus check, you should check to make sure the second stimulus isn't sent there.
If direct deposit doesn't apply to you, the IRS will be mailing a check or debit cards — which you should be careful to look out for and not to throw away. The IRS has said that they will finish mailing out the stimulus payments by the end of January. As was the case last time, you can track the status of your stimulus payment on the IRS' Get My Payment portal, which will tell you when your check is scheduled to be mailed out. The portal is slow, however, and you may have to wait a while in order to use it.
From there, it'll depend on how backed up the postal service is; there are new reports that the USPS is currently facing historic backlogs of all mail. If you'd like a heads-up of when the check is close to being delivered, you can try signing up for a USPS service called Informed Delivery that will alert you when it's on its way to you — but unfortunately, not all U.S. addresses are eligible for the service. You should also double-check to ensure that the IRS has the correct, current address on file.
Sending out this many checks is a huge endeavor, so though the IRS has a system in place to try to make sure every eligible American is receiving the money they're owed, it's far from perfect. An analysis of the first stimulus payments, for example, found that lower-income Americans were more likely to get their payments later than higher-income Americans. So while the burden shouldn't be on the individual, it's really important for people to follow up on checks they think should have come, but didn't.
It's also worth noting that there are some eligible Americans who still haven't received even their first $1,200 stimulus check. If you think you should have received the stimulus payments, but haven't gotten one or both, the IRS says you can claim the payments on your 2020 tax return, which you'd need to file by April 15. Who knows — maybe by then we'll get even more stimulus relief, something countless people in this country desperately need.