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Originally Published: Apr 20, 2020
Originally Published: Apr 20, 2020 Last Updated: May 19, 2020 9 min read
Money; Getty Images

Is the check in the mail? That was a question on the minds of many Americans early on in the stimulus payment program, which began with direct deposit payments.

Starting in mid-April, tens of millions of taxpayers received $1,200 coronavirus stimulus payments, as part of the $2 trillion CARES Act, and most of this coronavirus relief money so far has been sent via bank direct deposit.

If the IRS does not have your direct deposit info, you will still most likely get a payment by way of a traditional paper check if you're eligible and are in the system. Yet while some paper checks reportedly started arriving on or around April 24, it's possible you could have to wait weeks for your check to come in the mail.

The IRS says that 88 million taxpayers had received their stimulus payments as of April 17, which is more than half of the estimated 150 million payments that will be sent in the end. More recently, the Treasury Department, which oversees the IRS, said that as of May 18, more than 140 million stimulus payments had been delivered.

The fastest way to get your stimulus payment is via direct deposit, and there is an online IRS portal where — if it's not too late — you can give the agency your bank info, register for a payment, and track your payment status.

If you're still waiting for your check, you should understand that the payments are being made in a certain order. The first people to get stimulus checks, starting on April 15 or even earlier, were those who had filed their 2018 or 2019 tax returns and had already provided the IRS with their direct deposit information. The next group of people to get stimulus payments, according to a House Ways & Means Committee memo, are Social Security beneficiaries who have their direct deposit information on file with federal agencies.

The mailing of paper check stimulus payments begins after these first two rounds of direct deposits are sent to recipients, starting the week of April 20, with many checks reportedly dated April 24. While the precise timeline for all paper stimulus checks remains unclear, here's what we know.

When Are Paper Checks Being Mailed?

As of Sunday, April 19, Treasury Security Steve Mnuchin said that no stimulus payments had been sent out via paper check. "The checks have not gone out yet," Mnuchin said on CNN.

Mnuchin explained that the IRS had not processed or mailed any paper stimulus checks yet because he wanted to give people more time to use the online portal and provide bank direct deposit information to the agency. "We're hoping that more people, as I said, will go to IRS.gov. It's much safer to send out direct deposits," Mnuchin said.

If the IRS does not have direct deposit info on file for you, and you don't give your bank info to the agency, eligible recipients will get paper checks, sent to the mailing address the IRS or other federal agencies have on file for you. According to the House Ways & Means Committee memo, the IRS will begin issuing the first paper check stimulus payments starting the week of April 20, to taxpayers who have not given direct deposit info to the IRS. The IRS Get My Payment app gave some people April 24 as the scheduled date when checks would be sent to them.

Money has reached out to the IRS and the Treasury Department for more information and clarification, and we will update this story with further details when we can.

The IRS can process and mail out roughly 5 million paper checks per week, and it could take upwards of 20 weeks for all the checks to be sent. That would mean that some people wouldn't get their checks until August, or perhaps even September.

But the mailing out of paper checks would be completed sooner, obviously, if there were fewer physical checks being issued overall. Exactly how many paper stimulus checks will be sent depends on two factors: 1) how many people are registered for the payments (millions of low-income Americans are eligible, but might not be registered at the IRS portal); and 2) how many people are getting their stimulus payments via direct deposit (the IRS is still waiting for this information from more taxpayers) and therefore don't have to wait on paper checks.

Because of these unknowns, as well as the unprecedented nature of the coronavirus and the stimulus package in general, there is no exact timeline for when everyone will get their paper checks.

Who Gets Paper Check Stimulus Payments First?

Your adjusted gross income, or AGI, is the IRS term referring to your gross income minus eligible deductions and adjustments, such as student loan interest. And AGI is being used by the IRS to determine who is eligible for a stimulus payment, how big each recipient's check will be, and the order in which people will get stimulus payments if they are arriving via paper check.

Basically, the lowest income people eligible and registered for paper stimulus checks are supposed to be the first to receive them, and the highest-earning eligible taxpayers who haven't given direct deposit info to the IRS should be at the end of the line. "Checks will be issued in reverse 'adjusted gross income' order—starting with people with the lowest income first," the House memo dated April 16 says.

However, the IRS can only send you a check if the agency has your address on file — most likely, from your 2018 or 2019 tax return, but also possibly through Social Security or other benefits systems, or from the information you gave registering for a stimulus payment at the IRS "Non-Filers" form.

Can You Track Payment Status for Paper Checks?

Yes. You can use the IRS Get My Payment app to check the status of your payment, including how the payment will be made. If you have previously given the IRS your direct deposit information and you are eligible for a payment, the app will say which bank account will receive the direct deposit. If you have not provide direct deposit information, the app will show that your payment is coming via paper check.

The Get My Payment app will also show you a scheduled delivery date, and say whether or not a payment is scheduled, the IRS says. If you are receiving a paper check, the date shown on the Get My Payment app will be the day it's scheduled to be mailed, which is earlier than it will show up in your mailbox.

Take note that many people have been frustrated with Get My Payment, and for a variety of reasons their inquiries have resulted in "Payment Status Not Available" messages. But on April 26, after Get My Payment went offline briefly for maintenance, the IRS announced "significant enhancements" to the app, 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."

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