Stimulus Check Update: Paper Checks Are Being Sent Out; Here's What to Watch for if You Expect One

by Angelica Leicht | Updated July 25, 2021 - First published on March 19, 2021

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A stimulus check from the U.S. Treasury on a computer keyboard.

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Not sure what to watch for with this third stimulus check? Here's the scoop on how to spot your paper stimulus check or debit card in the mail.

After months of debate and compromise by lawmakers, the direct stimulus payments that were part of President Joe Biden's American Rescue Plan Act have finally begun to hit bank accounts across the nation. Biden signed the bill into law on March 11, and more than half of the $1,400 direct stimulus payments had been deposited into bank accounts as of the following Wednesday.

The process of issuing stimulus payments to Americans who qualify was much quicker this round than it was with the prior two stimulus payments, in part because the IRS was more prepared for it. The infrastructure for making payments was already in place, which sped the process up from three weeks with the first stimulus payment to just one week with the third.

But while more than 90 million payments have been made to bank accounts via direct deposit for those who qualify, there are still millions of paper checks that need to roll out to other qualifying recipients. If you're expecting to receive a paper stimulus check this round, here's what you should watch for.

What is the status of the paper stimulus checks?

If you're waiting for a paper check to land in your mailbox for the third stimulus payment, the good news is that you may not have to wait long. More than 150,000 paper checks were mailed out on Wednesday, according to the IRS.

Between the direct deposits and the paper checks mailed Wednesday, an estimated $442 million in stimulus relief money has already been sent out, with more on the way in the coming weeks.

As with the last two rounds of stimulus payments, the wait will be slightly longer for those recipients who are slated to receive a paper check. That said, this third round of paper payments appears to be on a much faster path than the first two.

It took about three weeks for paper checks to start rolling out to those who qualified for the first round of stimulus payments; this round has taken about a week for the paper check process to begin.

The process of issuing paper checks is also much faster than the IRS initially anticipated. The government agency was slated to start sending out paper checks at the end of March, which means that the 150,000 paper checks that were sent out yesterday were a couple of weeks ahead of schedule.

That's a big win for the 150,000 Americans who will receive their money in the mail in the coming days. Millions of Americans are in desperate need of the stimulus payments to cover bills and other expenses as the national economy struggles to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

But while those lucky recipients may soon see their stimulus payments in their mailboxes, there are still millions more who are slated to receive either a debit card or paper check in the mail.

There are no firm details of how long it will take for the next round of paper checks to be issued, but according to the IRS, more batches of payments will be sent out in the coming weeks through direct deposit, paper checks, and prepaid debit cards.

Since it appears that the IRS is working at a rapid pace to issue those checks, it's important to know what to watch for in your mailbox if you're expecting one.

What to look for if you're expecting a paper check or debit card

With the first and second round of stimulus payments, there were reported issues with recipients mistaking the debit cards for junk mail. There were concerns about theft if the envelopes were clearly labeled as stimulus payments, so the debit cards recipients received their payment cards in nondescript envelopes this last round.

Unfortunately, this led to a longer wait for the debit card recipients, many of whom accidentally threw out their stimulus payments with other advertisements and junk mail they received. When this occurred, the recipients had to wait for a replacement card to be issued to get their payment.

That issue shouldn't happen as often this time. Unlike the last two payments, this round of debit cards will be sent out with clearly marked envelopes to avoid those types of issues with lost or discarded payment cards.

And, there's more good news. If you're expecting a paper check, you can anticipate that envelope being clearly marked as well. The 150,000 paper checks that were sent out on Wednesday have a pay date of March 19, and they could start to arrive in people's mailboxes as early as this Friday, so make sure you keep an eye out.

If you expect to get a debit or payment card this round, you'll want to watch for a clearly marked envelope containing a debit card or check with your stimulus payment. If you want to know beforehand that you're receiving your payment, you can sign up for the USPS informed delivery system to keep an eye on what is landing in your mailbox each day. This will give you an idea of when your card or check should arrive.

How can I track my payment?

Start with the USPS informed delivery platform, but you can also opt to track your payment through other means as well.

If you are expecting to receive your money via check, the IRS' Get My Payment tool is up and running again with information about the third stimulus payment. This system gives recipients information on whether they qualify for the third stimulus payment, when the payment is scheduled for, and whether your payment is among the direct deposits or the 150,000 paper checks that were sent out on Wednesday.

Using the Get My Payment tool is simple. All you need to input is your Social Security or tax ID, along with your birthday, street address, and zip code.

Your payment status will appear if it has been processed already and has been mailed out to you. 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.

What happens if the Get My Payment tool says "Payment not available"?

There is a chance that the IRS' Get My Payment tool will show "Payment not available" when you check it. If this happens, try not to panic. This status could mean a few different things.

If you receive this status, it may mean you are not eligible for this round of payments. The income level maximums were slashed this time around. The maximum income limit for single tax filers to receive any stimulus money this round is $80,000, and $160,000 for married joint filers. Any income higher than this will disqualify you from receiving the stimulus payment altogether.

That said, the "Payment not available" status could also mean that the IRS hasn't processed your payment yet. If you know your income should qualify for a payment this round, don't take this status as an indicator that you aren't eligible. It just means that you should give the IRS some time to process your payment.

Fortunately, the Get My Payment tool updates daily, so you won't have to wait long for more updates. You can check back each day to find an updated status on your payment. And remember, while the IRS is ahead of schedule for some paper checks, you could still have a slight wait for your payment if you're expecting a paper check or debit card, so whatever you do, don't panic.

If you qualify, chances are good your paper check will be on the way in the near future. If it's not, there will likely be a way to claim the money you are owed once the IRS is done issuing this round of payments, just as there was with the last two rounds.

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