Wednesday was a down day for the stock market, as investors got their first glance at economic data showing at least some of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Oil prices also moved lower, hurting energy stocks, and earnings from bank stocks kept financials generally weak as well. By the end of the day, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (^DJI 0.67%), S&P 500 (^GSPC -0.31%), and Nasdaq Composite (^IXIC -1.09%) were all down roughly 1% to 2%.

Today's stock market


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Data source: Yahoo! Finance.

UnitedHealth Group (UNH 1.53%) led the Dow's gainers in percentage terms, while Dow (DOW) was the index's worst performer. Yet for many Americans, the stock market isn't nearly as important as getting some much-needed financial assistance from the federal government. Despite promises of stimulus checks in the near future, one tool that the IRS set up to try to help Americans figure out when they can anticipate getting some money isn't working the way people had hoped.

What people are expecting

The aid package that Washington lawmakers passed late last month included stimulus payments for the vast majority of Americans. For most people, that means $1,200 for adults and $500 for each qualifying child. The Treasury Department said its goal was to get checks out to individuals within three weeks, which is right about now.

To help people track their payments, the IRS put together a website that you can use to find out your stimulus check status. Called "Get My Payment," the tool is designed to take basic personal information and then let you know when you'll receive your stimulus check. For those who have direct deposit information for their most recent tax returns, the payment will get deposited to your account automatically. For others, a physical check will take more time to process and get to you.

Check from U.S. Treasury next to cash.

Image source: Getty Images.

Try again later

Unfortunately, many of those using the service aren't getting the answers they want. The term "Payment Status Not Available" was a top-trending phrase on Twitter Wednesday afternoon, as thousands of people didn't find the information they were seeking from the IRS.

The IRS offered an explanation that wasn't terribly useful. In its frequently asked questions, the tax agency said that getting "Payment Status Not Available" might mean you're not eligible because of having too much income, or you might not have filed a tax return when you required to do so in order to receive payment. In addition, those who've only recently filed their tax returns or other information won't get a status change until their returns are processed. Social Security recipients and members of other government programs can also get the error message because the IRS is working with the Social Security Administration and other agencies to coordinate information.

Given the need for payments as quickly as possible, many frustrated people have checked the website repeatedly. However, it only updates once daily, so the answer isn't going to change.

Moreover, even some of those who get more encouraging results won't necessarily get all the information they want. Some eligible recipients will get a message saying that a payment hasn't yet been processed. The IRS service won't estimate when the payment date will occur.

Stay vigilant

Millions of people are depending on their stimulus checks, so it's disappointing that the IRS website isn't doing a better job of giving people the information they need. Hopefully, the federal government will be able to correct problems quickly and get money into the hands of those who need it most in the days to come.