Stimulus Check Update: Is Your Third Stimulus Payment Less Than You're Eligible For? The IRS Says This Could Be Why

by Angelica Leicht | Updated July 25, 2021 - First published on March 25, 2021

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A hand holding a small American flag and a stimulus check from the U.S. Treasury.

Image source: Getty Images

Wondering why your third stimulus payment is less than you expected? There's a simple explanation for the issue. Here's why -- and when you could get the rest of your money.

If you've been waiting on your third stimulus payment to hit your bank account or mailbox, you probably won't have to wait much longer. The IRS had issued payments to about 127 million qualifying Americans as of Wednesday, March 25 -- and more paper checks and debit cards should be on the way in the upcoming weeks.

These $1,400 direct cash stimulus payments have been life rafts for the millions of Americans who are still struggling to recover from the economic hit they sustained due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This money is helping to cover essential bills, replenish bank accounts, and cover other costs while unemployed or underemployed Americans continue to struggle to make ends meet in a tough job market.

But while the stimulus money is helping to put a bandage on an ailing economic situation in the U.S., some people are reporting that their stimulus payments are smaller than they expected -- and less than they're eligible for. If you receive a payment for less than what you'd expect, this could be why.

The issue with smaller stimulus payments

Nearly 130 million Americans have already received their third stimulus payment, or are scheduled to receive it in the next few days. These payments, which total up to $1,400 for each qualifying adult or child in the household, have been primarily distributed by direct deposit up to this point.

The Treasury Department also mailed nearly 15 million paper checks over the last few days, according to the IRS. Another 5 million prepaid debit cards have also been sent out. Both types of payments will continue to be mailed to qualifying recipients over the next few weeks.

But, while lucky qualifying Americans may have already started seeing the money hit their bank accounts, not all of them have received the total amount they were expecting. There have been numerous reports of people receiving smaller-than-expected payments being made via direct deposit.

In some cases, qualifying recipients are reporting that they've received just half of what they were expecting to see for this round of stimulus payments.

And, they're not the only ones who are puzzled by the lack of funds in their stimulus checks.

There are other groups of qualifying Americans, including those who receive Social Security payments or Veterans Association payments, that have not received updates on when their money will be made available.

Those smaller and missing payments aren't just inconvenient, either. They could spell big trouble for the millions of Americans who remain out of work due to the pandemic, many of whom were relying on this direct payment to help ease the burden caused by the pandemic.

Luckily, it appears that there is a simple explanation for why some Americans are receiving less than expected for this round of stimulus payments. If you've already gotten your stimulus check but it was for less money than you expected, this may be why.

Why some stimulus payments are less than expected

The issue with less-than-expected checks is occurring primarily with married people who file their tax returns jointly, according to the IRS.

This is caused by a glitch in the system that divides the payment into two parts for certain married couples filing jointly. This glitch primarily occurs for one of two reasons:

  1. You have an injured spouse claim on your tax return, or
  2. Your tax refund was withheld due to your spouse's debts, which could include unpaid federal or state taxes or garnished money for child support

The good news is that couples in either situation are still eligible to receive their full stimulus payments based on what they qualify for under the income guidelines. So, while you may have to wait a bit longer for the second half of your stimulus payment, it probably isn't gone forever. In most cases, the second half of your payment will still arrive in the near future.

That said, it will probably arrive by paper check or debit card in these cases. The IRS has noted that payments delivered via direct deposit should have been deposited by Wednesday of this week, according to a joint news release from the Treasury Department, IRS, and Bureau of the Fiscal Service.

Those who did not receive the second half of their stimulus payment via direct deposit should keep an eye on their mailbox, which is likely where the second half of the money will land.

While that may not be the ideal scenario if you're in need of the money right away, the good news is that it appears this new round of paper stimulus checks is being issued in a more timely manner than they were with the first or second stimulus payments.

There were lots of reported delays by recipients who were stuck waiting longer for paper checks and debit cards with the last two stimulus payments. The delays were, in part, caused by the fact that the paper checks and debit cards were mailed out at a much later date than the direct deposits.

There were other issues with the first two stimulus payments, too, like clerical errors and confusion over the prepaid debit cards, all of which caused further delays.

That does not appear to be the case this time. Batches of paper checks have rolled out alongside direct deposits with this round in a bid to expedite the money landing in the right hands, so if you're going to be stuck waiting on the second half of your payment to arrive via mail, you may not have to wait as long as you did with the previous payments.

What to do if some or all of your stimulus payment is missing

This week's round of payments includes millions of paper checks, so if you haven't received the second half of your stimulus payment (or any of it), don't panic. The money may still be on the way.

Those qualifying recipients who didn't receive a direct deposit on Wednesday should keep their eyes open for a paper check or a prepaid debit card in the mail, the IRS said. You can use the USPS Informed Delivery system tool to keep an eye on any paper checks or debit cards headed your way.

You can also opt to track your payment through the IRS's Get My Payment tool, which is up and running again with information about the third stimulus payment. This system will tell you whether you qualify for the third stimulus payment and when the payment is scheduled to be made.

You'll need to input your Social Security number or tax ID, along with your birthday, street address, and zip code to use it. If the Get My Payment tool confirms that you're in line to receive a paper check or debit card, be sure to watch the USPS portal or the mail for your card or check to arrive.

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