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Originally Published: Jan 14, 2021
Originally Published: Jan 14, 2021 Last Updated: Jan 15, 2021 6 min read
There's a Major Stimulus Check Deadline This Friday
Money; Shutterstock

If the IRS hasn't sent your second stimulus payment by this Friday, you could be waiting a while for that $600 check.

The agency is racing against a Jan. 15 deadline to get the latest round of Economic Impact Payments — which were approved by Congress and the president in a late-December coronavirus relief package — to eligible Americans. Once the clock runs out, your best plan may be to claim the Recovery Rebate Credit when you do your 2020 taxes this spring.

The good news is most have already gone out: According to a bulletin from the House Ways and Means Committee, the IRS has sent 113 million direct deposits, with another 34 million paper checks and debit cards due to "be delivered over the course of the next couple weeks." The bad news is that there were several issues in the process.

Perhaps the biggest stimulus check error was a mix-up where the IRS sent direct deposits to closed bank accounts that had been created by tax preparers like H&R Block and TurboTax. These payments are now being reissued. But it's not hard to find people on social media who still haven't received their stimulus check.

If you're among them, here's what you need to know.

The Jan. 15 stimulus check deadline is mostly for the IRS (not you)

It has to do with the Consolidated Appropriations Act 2021 — the huge spending bill that includes $900 billion of coronavirus relief.

The text includes a section about the timeline for stimulus checks, referred to as "recovery rebates." It spells out the deadline pretty clearly, saying that "except as provided in subclause (II), no refund or credit shall be made or allowed under this subsection after January 15, 2021." (In case you're wondering, that subclause refers to how U.S. territories handle taxes.)

Basically, the government wanted to get the money in Americans' pockets fast, so it came up with a deadline.

What to do if you haven't gotten a stimulus check yet

Don't panic. The payment could still show up; give it a couple more weeks. Use the Get My Payment tool, and watch the mail for a white envelope with a Treasury Department seal.

The House bulletin says that "if you have not received a direct deposit payment by Jan. 15, 2021, or a paper check or debit card by the end of January, you can reach out to your member of Congress for assistance in trying to resolve the issue." If tax time rolls around and you still haven't gotten your second stimulus check, it notes, "you will still have the opportunity to claim the EIP on your returns."

What is the Recovery Rebate Credit?

Technically, both the first and second stimulus checks are advances on a special, pandemic-only tax credit called the Recovery Rebate Credit. If you got the full amounts — $1,200 per adult last year and $600 this month, plus extra for dependents — you're good to go. If you didn't, or you think you're owed more, the IRS will rectify that problem when you file your 2020 tax return.

To do this, you can claim the Recovery Rebate Credit on your Form 1040 or 1040-SR. (There will also be a worksheet where you can figure out exactly how much stimulus money you're eligible for.)

If you're eligible, the IRS will either subtract your stimulus from the amount you owe or add it to your refund.

How long will the second stimulus check take if you have to claim it on your taxes?

That is the crucial question here, given the severity of the current economic situation. The 2021 filing season technically hasn't started yet. Last year, the filing season for individuals began on Jan. 27. In 2019 and 2018, it started on Jan. 28 and Jan. 29, respectively.

But even if you file your 2020 taxes the first second you can, you won't get your refund immediately. Though the IRS sends almost all refunds in less than 21 days, it takes time to process. You're looking at February at the earliest.

FYI: People who submit taxes electronically and opt to get their refunds via direct deposit typically get them the fastest. The IRS recommends you do both in order to receive your stimulus payments quickly, too.

More from Money:

What to Do if You Haven't Received Your Second Stimulus Check Yet

Your Second Stimulus Check Might Come in the Mail Even if Your First Was Direct Deposit

How to Decide the 'Best' Way to Use Your Stimulus Check