The stimulus checks, part of the $2 trillion coronavirus aid package, were designed to provide some financial relief for Americans stinging from job losses and other money, but for many they've become a source of frustration, anger, and confusion.
While the U.S. Treasury said over 80 million Americans have received their stimulus checks through direct deposit last week, many others are still waiting, wondering if they will get a payment at all.
Some Americans are bewildered about eligibility or have been stymied by technical difficulties at the Internal Revenue Service. Others have faced errors or delays in receiving their payments. And, in some cases, dead relatives are getting the government aid, too.
“For those who are relying most on the stimulus funds, any difficulty accessing the deposits will put additional pressure on their finances as well as adding to their overall stress,” said Bruce McClary, the spokesman for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.
‘Into a closed account’
Using the IRS stimulus tracking tool, Cody Hopkins saw that the $1,200 deposit had been made, but — to his horror — the money went into the wrong bank account, he told Yahoo Money.
“That bank account was closed last summer, and when I filed my 2019 return in January 2020, I updated to my recent banking information,” said the 37-year-old Texas basketball coach who is still employed.
Bank account changes were a foreseeable consideration for the IRS, and the agency said that stimulus checks would be routed to the bank where your most recent tax return was made. For Hopkins, who filed his 2019 taxes in January, that was not the case.
“They did not follow that protocol in my situation, obviously,” Hopkins said. “It is very frustrating that the IRS has not addressed this publicly.”
In the meantime, Hopkins has been forced advocate on his own in the matter.
In pursuit of his stimulus check, he called his bank, and was told there was no record of the deposit and there was no way to temporarily reopen the account. The bank informed him that, in all likelihood, the check would be automatically returned to the IRS.
He’s also called TurboTax, his tax preparer, but the company is just as lost as Hopkins and hasn’t received word from the IRS on what to tell the influx of customers who call to report the same issue. Instead, the company provided him links to the IRS and directed him to an outdated blog.
When he reached out to the IRS by phone, a recording explained that returned calls, answered emails, or assistance are not guaranteed because of COVID-19. His voicemails were still unanswered as of Monday.
Others who expected a direct deposit for their stimulus payments are facing similar problems. H&R Block noted that some of its clients’ bank accounts weren’t utilized for the payments.
“The IRS has bank account information for all H&R Block clients who received tax refunds electronically and is determining when and how stimulus payments are distributed,” an H&R Block’s spokesperson told Yahoo Money. “They have created confusion by not always using clients’ final destination bank account information for stimulus payments.”
‘He’s only been dead a couple of years’
To speed up delivery of the stimulus payments, the IRS is relying on information from 2018 tax returns to determine eligibility. That also means some people who passed away since then are sent a payment, too, such as Greg Ivan’s cousin, who died in the second half of 2018.
The cousin’s father — Ivan’s uncle — filed a final return for his son in 2018 and listed him as 'deceased.’ Their bank accounts at the time were linked, so a stimulus deposit for the dead son recently defaulted into the father’s account.
Ivan said his uncle has been trying to contact the IRS to see what to do about the payment made to his son.
“If you want to know how effective our government is, they deposited a stimulus check into my dead cousin’s account, because he filed taxes in 2018,” Ivan said. “I mean, he’s only been dead a couple of years.”
Rep. Thomas Massie, a Republican from Kentucky took to Twitter to say this has happened to a friend of his as well. His friend received a stimulus payment on behalf of his father who died in 2018.
“This is insane,” Massie tweeted. “But just the tip of the iceberg.”
‘The $1,200 sooner would have been a huge relief’
The longer wait for paper checks is putting additional strain on some Americans who are already in a precarious position financially, such as Marisa Halpin.
The lowest-income Americans will be the first to get mailed checks starting April 24, but some may need to wait until mid-September.
Halprin, 25, was laid off last year after a startup she worked for went under. While she has a new job now, she spent months unemployed, without income, and living in a very expensive suburb of Boston that depleted all her savings.
Now in grad school, Halpin is struggling to pay for her summer classes. She expects to get her mailed check in about six weeks, later than she would like.
“The $1,200 sooner would have been a huge relief to pay for classes,” Halpin said. “I have to come up with the money, literally by tomorrow, and it kills me to think that I may have to pick and choose which bills I can pay this month.”
‘It does not say 17 and under’
Kelly Thoennes, a 52-year-old single mother and owner of a now temporarily shuttered restaurant in Bloomington, Illinois, is grateful to receive the $1,200 stimulus check to support her and her three children. But she also feels a little fleeced by the IRS.
At first, she thought the IRS shortchanged her by $1,000 by neglecting to give the $500-per-child bonus for her 17-year-old twins.
“After doing some research and reading the fine print, I finally got it into my head that it does not say 17 and under,” Thoennes said. “It said children under 17.”
Still, Thoennes, along with scores of parents of older teens, believes that anyone 18 and under who can be claimed as a dependent should have been included for the additional child rebate.
‘They don't know if I'm eligible for it’
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a major disruption to college students’ studies, graduation ceremonies, living arrangements, and finances. Adding to their shock and disappointment: Many won’t receive stimulus money from the federal government, either, because their parents claim them as dependents on their tax returns.
But for 19-year-old Bryce Jones, he’s not quite sure. He’s transferring from Iowa Western Community College to Stetson University and is living with his parents. But he files his own taxes and isn’t a dependent on his parents’ return, which should make him eligible for a payment.
“I continue to look at the IRS stimulus tracker and it tells me that they don't know if I'm eligible for it," Jones told Yahoo Money.
That’s the same predicament as many Americans who were last week unable to get a status update on their payments due to an initial overload on the IRS website.
A $1,200 cash infusion would immensely help Bryce who was laid off from his job at a zoo in Omaha, Nebraska, until further notice and is struggling to pay his bills. Not knowing if a check will ever arrive frustates him.
“I can't go out and get more groceries,” Jones said. “It's heartbreaking not knowing if I'm going to be able to eat or not.”