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Should you file an IRS payment trace for your missing third stimulus check? What to know

If your stimulus check never arrived, you may need to request a payment trace from the IRS.


Sarah Tew/CNET

The IRS is now three weeks into sending the third stimulus check for up to $1,400 to those who qualify. If you have yet to get yours, it’s too soon to worry. Millions are still waiting for their checks, with more stimulus payments going out this weekend, including to SSI and SSDI recipients. (Those who get veterans benefits have a few weeks more to wait.) But it’s not too soon to see the status of your money by tracking your third payment to see if there are any reasons it might get delayed. And if the IRS reports it has sent your money already but you don’t have it, you may need to take an extra step to track it down. There are a few different ways to track your payment, depending on your situation. 

For the first and second stimulus checks, millions of eligible Americans had money missing for their dependents or never received the funds at all. Now, most of those people have to file for that missing money on their tax return, as a Recovery Rebate Credit (even if they don’t usually file taxes). Others will need to contact the IRS directly and request something called a Payment Trace to track down their money. What do you need to do? We help you figure it out. (We’ve also got information on how to report stimulus check problems to the IRS and how to calculate your total for the first check and the second check.)

We also tell you what an IRS Payment Trace is, including the two cases in which you may need to request one, as well as how to get started. We’ve also got stimulus payment guides for older adultsyoung adults, non-US citizens and those living abroad and people who pay or receive child support. Plus, here’s what we’re hearing so far about a potential fourth stimulus check, all of the tax credits you could claim this year and the child tax credit. This story is frequently updated.

Payment Trace scenario 1: The IRS Get My Payment tool says the agency sent your check, but you never got it

The IRS continues to send out the third stimulus check to millions of people, so there’s a good chance that if you haven’t gotten yours yet, it’s on the way. You can check the status of your third check using the free IRS tracking tool, called Get My Payment. We have full instructions on how to use the Get My Payment tool and the different messages you might see there. You 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. (Here’s how to track your mailed check through the USPS.)

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

When to request an IRS Payment Trace

Method of payment Time passed since IRS says it sent your payment
Direct deposit 5 days
Check mailed to standard address 4 weeks
Check mailed to a forwarded address 6 weeks
Check mailed to a foreign address 9 weeks

This timeline was the same for the first and second checks as well. If your first or second stimulus checks were missing, you can no longer use the Get My Payment tool to track them down. Instead, you’ll need to view or create your online account with the IRS. To do that, provide your full name, email, birth date, Social Security number or Individual Tax Identification Number, tax filing status and current address. (We’ve got instructions on how to use your IRS online account here.)

We’re several months past the deadline for the second check to arrive by direct depositby mail or by EIP card, including for US citizens who live in foreign countries. If your account shows that your payment was issued but you didn’t receive it, you’ll need to request a Payment Trace. 


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Payment Trace scenario 2: You got a letter from the IRS confirming your payment was sent, but it never arrived

About 15 days after the IRS sends your third stimulus check (by either direct depositpaper check or EIP card), you should get 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.) The same is true for the first and second stimulus checks as well. 

How to request a Payment Trace from the IRS so you can claim your missing stimulus 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.)

To complete Form 3911 for your third stimulus check, the IRS provides the following instructions: 

  1. Write “EIP3” 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 “2021” 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. 

How does the IRS process Payment Trace claims? 

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 it will issue a replacement. This is presumably to guard against stimulus check fraud.
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Better catch that missing money before it slips away.


Sarah Tew/CNET

When can you expect to receive missing stimulus money after filing a Payment Trace?

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. But this could be delayed due to limited staffing. We’ve reached out to the IRS for more information.

For more on stimulus checks, here’s what we know about a potential fourth stimulus check and what else is in the stimulus package that may help you financially.


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