Confusion reigns as IRS starts issuing coronavirus payments

The rollout of coronavirus relief payments has been clouded by confusion for the millions of Americans struggling to understand why they haven’t received their money.

The IRS last week sent out more than 80 million payments to people via direct deposit. But tens of millions more are still waiting for their funds, and they have questions.

Tax policy experts said it’s understandable for those people to be upset.

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“People are losing their jobs, they’re frustrated, they’re scared,” said Chuck Marr, senior director of federal tax policy at the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington.

But experts also said they have been impressed by how quickly the IRS started disbursing payments, even with a number of challenges including budget cuts over the past decade, antiquated technology and many IRS employees needing to work remotely during the pandemic.

“Under those circumstances, people need to realize that the IRS is making a strong effort,” Marr said.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump suggests some states may 'pay nothing' as part of unemployment plan Trump denies White House asked about adding him to Mount Rushmore Trump, US face pivotal UN vote on Iran MORE signed a law late last month that provides one-time direct payments to most Americans of up to $1,200 per adult and $500 per child. Individuals with income under $75,000 and married couples with income under $150,000 qualify for the full amount.

The IRS moved quickly after enactment, getting the first batch out the door in less than three weeks. The agency also launched web tools in an effort to help people get their money faster.

Trump touted the rollout at a press briefing Friday.

“I have some very good news: We sent out 80 million deposits, and less than 1 percent had even little problems,” he said.

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A Treasury Department spokeswoman said that as of Thursday, about 1 percent of the direct deposit payments had been rejected by banks. It’s possible more could be rejected this week.

But the direct deposits and web tools have come with other bigger hiccups, leaving many taxpayers frustrated.

One area causing a lot of confusion is how people will receive their payment if they purchased tax refund anticipation loans from their tax preparer or used a portion of their refund to pay their tax-prep company. In those cases, the IRS transmits a taxpayer’s refund to a temporary bank account and may not have their direct deposit information.

The Treasury spokeswoman said the department is encouraging people in those situations to use the IRS's Get My Payment online tool to submit their bank account information to the agency.

H&R Block said there have been some instances where the IRS has sent coronavirus rebates to temporary accounts, and others where the agency has sent the payments directly to personal bank accounts.

“We have seen IRS send stimulus payments to temporary accounts for some of our clients. As long as it is an open account, H&R Block is processing those and sending the payment to the client’s chosen disbursement — check, Emerald Card or external bank account,” the company said. “We have also seen IRS send stimulus payments directly to the ultimate destination account without it passing through the temporary account.”

Both H&R Block and TurboTax said they provide customers’ bank account information to the IRS. 

“The IRS has the end user banking information needed to deliver stimulus payments and is ultimately responsible for determining how and when the stimulus payments will arrive to Americans,” said a spokesman for Intuit, which owns TurboTax. “We understand from the IRS that they will continue sending payments out.” 

The Intuit spokesman added that TurboTax is seeing customers receive payments in their bank accounts and on their TurboTax debit cards.

“For TurboTax filers that received a refund advance, any stimulus payment that may inadvertently go through that banking process is passed through to the individual’s personal account with no fees and no additional delay,” he said.

Some people who have received payments are confused about the amount of their payments. Congressional aides and tax preparers said they have heard about taxpayers receiving payments that don’t include the additional $500 per child, or they’re getting payments for relatives who died in 2019 or 2020.

Several tax experts said they think people who received payments for dead relatives will not have to pay the money back. The Treasury spokeswoman said the department is looking into the issue.

Taxpayers have also experienced confusion over the IRS’s Get My Payment web application, which allows people to check the status of their payment in addition to providing the IRS with direct deposit information.

While Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinWhite House officials, Democrats spar over legality, substance of executive orders Sunday shows - Trump coronavirus executive orders reverberate Pelosi: 'Of course there's room for compromise' on 0-per-week unemployment benefit MORE said several million people used it to submit their bank account information, some are struggling to answer the IRS’s security questions. Others are frustrated because they’ve received messages that their payment status isn’t available, and some are finding that they’re not able to use the tool to submit their bank information.

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Ty Gaines, a Virginia-based enrolled agent authorized to represent taxpayers before the IRS, said a majority of her clients who have reported problems with the IRS website owed the government money for 2018 and have yet to file their 2019 tax returns. 

“When they go to the portal, it doesn’t allow them to update their bank info,” she said.

The IRS is encouraging people who have not yet filed their 2019 returns and who need to update their bank account information or home address to promptly file their returns.

An aide to House Ways and Means Committee Democrats said people are also reporting trouble with the IRS web tool if they applied their tax refund to the following year’s taxes.

In an effort to help people who have experienced difficulties using the tool, the IRS has created a web page with answers to frequently asked questions about the Get My Payment tool. 

Ryan Ellis, an enrolled agent and conservative tax lobbyist, said some people are concerned when they receive an error message on the IRS’s website that they won’t be getting a payment. But that’s not the case, he said. The question is whether they will get their payment by direct deposit or by paper check, or whether they will get their credit by claiming it on their 2020 tax return.

“It’s not going to be the cleanest thing in the world, but you will get it,” Ellis said.

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When direct deposit information isn’t available to the IRS, recipients will receive paper checks instead. The Treasury Department said it will start to issue those checks this week.

Marc Goldwein, senior vice president and senior policy director at the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, said that in some ways, the direct payment program is working faster than other relief mechanisms created by the law Trump signed on March 27, such as the Paycheck Protect Program for small businesses and expanded unemployment insurance.

“It’s really important to give credit where credit is due,” he said.