"Do not call."
That's one of the first things you'll see on the IRS web page focused on "Coronavirus Tax Relief and Economic Impact Payments," otherwise known as stimulus checks.
People have many questions about the stimulus checks. They're the coronavirus relief payments that give up to $1,200 per adult and $500 per child under age 17 to those who meet the eligibility requirements and have their information on file with the IRS or select other federal agencies. Among the stimulus check questions people might want answered:
Money has tried to answer these questions and many others as best we can with our ongoing coronavirus coverage. But you won't be able to call the IRS and talk to a live customer service representative about any of these issues.
[UPDATE: On May 18, the IRS announced that it is "starting to add 3,500 telephone representatives to answer some of the most common questions about Economic Impact Payments," otherwise known as stimulus checks. As Money reported, however, so far it appears as if there is no way to actually get a live IRS agent on the phone. A May 19 IRS announcement stated that "some IRS phone lines supported by customer service representatives for both taxpayers and tax professionals including the EIP phone line for those who received an EIP letter (Notice 1444) are open with limited staffing at this time, however callers should expect long waits."]
Why can't you get the IRS on the phone? Basically, the IRS has reduced staffing to the point that it doesn't have anyone to answer the phones. And the reason for the reduced staffing is the same reason that stimulus checks are being issued in the first place: the coronavirus.
What Happens When You Call the IRS About Stimulus Checks
In order "to protect the public and employees, and in compliance with orders of local health authorities around the country," the IRS says it is offering very limited services right now — and no live customer service assistance over the phone. The IRS still operates an automated phone service where you can get some information, but the agency says that this line does not offer any help regarding stimulus check payments:
When you call the IRS's 800 number, a voice says, "At this time, we are unable to provide live assistance due to reduced staff levels." The phone line offers warnings about scams and a directory with automated information regarding tax refunds, but nothing to address questions about stimulus payments. "We apologize for the inconvenience," the voice says.
It certainly doesn't help that, long before the coronavirus pandemic, the IRS's budget has been cut severely and it sometimes struggled to answer even one-third of the phone calls placed by taxpayers. Even so, the IRS says that it had sent out 130 million stimulus payments through the first four weeks of the program, and it estimates a total of 150 million payments will be delivered in total.
You could write a letter to the IRS to ask about your stimulus check, we suppose, but getting information this way would take even longer than usual. Probably much, much longer. The IRS's mail processing has been drastically scaled back because of the coronavirus pandemic, and for the time being the agency is not even looking at paper tax returns — causing tax refund delays for people filing that way.
The IRS said it would host a webinar about stimulus check payments starting at 2 p.m. ET on Thursday, April 23, and there would be a live Q&A session online. However, the IRS postponed the event, though it could be rescheduled with a "future date to be determined."
Use the IRS Portal and Get My Payment App
With no live person to call at the IRS, your best bet for getting information now is the IRS website. For basic questions about issues like who is eligible for payments and what steps (if any) you need to take to get your check, head to the IRS FAQ page about stimulus checks. (You might also want to call your bank, if you believe the payment's been made but it's not showing up in your account.)
Another part of the online IRS portal has a page detailing how to use the tools it's created for coronavirus payments, with a special focus on whether you should use the Get My Payment app or the "Non-Filers: Enter Payment Info Here" form. A separate page just addresses frequently asked questions about Get My Payment.
Basically, you'll want to use the "Non-Filers" form if you haven't filed taxes for 2018 or 2019 — perhaps because your income level was so low you weren't required to file — and you're eligible for a stimulus payment. If you don't register here, you might not get your money.
The Get My Payment app is intended to let you track the status of your payment, get an estimated date for the payment's arrival if it's been scheduled, find out how the payment will be made (direct deposit or paper check), and add direct deposit information if it's not already on file with the IRS and your payment hasn't been processed yet.
Be aware, however, that many Get My Payment users have been frustrated with "Payment Status Not Available" and "Please Try Again Later" messages when trying to get information from the app. The system has some glitches, and people have been complaining about everything from error messages while attempting to log in, to puzzlement over why they're receiving a paper check when they requested direct deposit.
Unfortunately, for the time being, there's no one you can call at the IRS who can answer questions about any of these issues.
After briefly taking Get My Payment offline for maintenance, the IRS said on April 26 that the app now had "significant enhancements," and the agency encouraged people to try to use the tool again. "We urge people who haven’t received a payment date yet to visit Get My Payment again for the latest information," IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig said in a statement. "IRS teams worked long hours to deliver Get My Payment in record time, and we will continue to make improvements to help Americans."