IRS payment trace vs. Recovery Rebate Credit: How to find missing stimulus checks

March 10, 2021 0 By boss



You may need to request a Payment Trace from the IRS for your no-show stimulus check.

Sarah Tew/CNET

A third stimulus check for up to $1,400 per person could be sent out at the end of the month, if the latest COVID-19 relief package passes into law as scheduled. But millions of eligible Americans never received their first or second stimulus check, or had money missing for their dependents, due to a number of issues. But luckily, it’s not too late to track down and claim that missing money. And there are a couple of different ways to do it, depending on your situation. 

Now that it’s tax season, most people will need to file for any missing stimulus money you qualified for on your 2020 tax return. You can do this through a Recovery Rebate Credit (even if you don’t usually file taxes). Some situations, however, may require you to contact the IRS directly and request something called a payment trace to track down your money. So how do you know which one you need to do? We’ll help you figure it out. (We’ve also got a list of some other stimulus check catches and exceptions here, and you can use our stimulus calculator to estimate the amount of money you should have received.)

We’ll explain everything you need to know about an IRS payment trace, including the two cases in which you may need to request one instead of filing for a Recovery Rebate Credit on your taxes, and how to get started. We’ve also got stimulus payment guides for older adultsyoung adultsSSI and SSDI recipientsnon-US citizens and those living abroad and people who pay or receive child support. Plus, here’s what we know so far about a third stimulus check, including how soon a new check could arrive, what happens if it comes during tax season and how much money your household could get. This story was recently updated.

Case 1: The IRS online app says the agency sent out your check, but it didn’t arrive

If your second stimulus check is missing, you should first go to the free IRS online payment tracking tool called Get My Payment to find out its status. We have full instructions on how to use the Get My Payment tool and the different messages you might see here. You’ll need to plug in your Social Security number or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, date of birth, street address and ZIP or postal code. 

The portal will show your payment status, if your money has been scheduled to send, and the payment method (direct deposit or by mail) and date. You might also see a different message or an error. (By the way, here’s why you might want to register for direct deposit with the IRS if you haven’t already.)

You’ll need to request a Payment Trace if the Get May Payment portal shows that your payment was issued, but you haven’t received it within these time frames: 

  • 5 days since the deposit date in Get my Payment and your bank says they haven’t received it.
  • 4 weeks since it was mailed by check to a standard address for the first check; after Feb. 24 for the second check.
  • 6 weeks since it was mailed and you have a forwarding address on file with the local post office for the first check; March 10 for the second check.
  • 9 weeks since it was mailed and you have a foreign address for the first check; March 31 for the second check.

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Case 2: You got the IRS letter confirming your payment was sent, but you never received a check

About 15 days after the IRS sent your second stimulus check (by either direct depositpaper check or EIP card), you should have gotten a letter from the agency confirming your payment and giving you a way to get in touch to report any problems. If you received this letter — also called Notice 1444 Your Economic Impact Payment — but you never received your payment, you’ll need to request a Payment Trace. Make sure you keep the letter — you’ll need the information to file your claim. (Here’s what to do if you lost the IRS letter about your stimulus check.)

Here’s how to request a Payment Trace from the IRS to claim your missing money

To request a Payment Trace, call the IRS at 800-919-9835 or mail or fax a completed Form 3911, Taxpayer Statement Regarding Refund. (Note that if you call the number, you’ll have to listen through the recorded content before you can connect with an agent.) Find out where to mail or fax that form for your state on the IRS website

To complete Form 3911, the IRS provides the following instructions: 

  1. Write “EIP” on the top of the form (EIP stands for Economic Impact Payment)
  2. Complete the form answering all refund questions as they relate to your payment
  3. When completing item 7 under Section 1:
  • Check the box for “Individual” as the Type of return.
  • Enter “2020” as the Tax Period.
  • Do not write anything for the Date Filed.
  • Sign the form. If you’re married and filing together, both spouses must sign the form.

You should not mail Form 3911 if you’ve already requested a trace by phone. And you should not request a Payment Trace to determine if you were eligible to get a check, or to confirm the amount you should have received, the IRS said. 


Better catch that missing money before it slips away.

Sarah Tew/CNET

How will the IRS process your Payment Trace claim? 

The IRS will do the following to process your claim, according to its website: 

  • If you didn’t cash the check, the IRS will issue a replacement. If you discover the original check among your belongings, you’re expected to return it as soon as possible.
  • If you did cash the refund check, expect a claim package from the Bureau of the Fiscal Service, which will include a copy of the cashed check. Then, follow the included instructions. The Bureau will review your claim and the signature on the canceled check before deciding if they’ll issue a replacement. This is presumably to guard against stimulus check fraud.

When should you expect to receive your missing stimulus money?

You should get a response from the IRS about six weeks after the agency receives your request for a Payment Trace, according to its website. However, this could be delayed due to limited staffing. 

For more on stimulus checks, check out all the stimulus checks facts and details to know, everything we know about a third stimulus check so far, and three good reasons to set up direct deposit with the IRS.

The editorial content on this page is based solely on objective, independent assessments by our writers and is not influenced by advertising or partnerships. It has not been provided or commissioned by any third party. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products or services offered by our partners.


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