April 16 update: Many people have experienced the same glitch. If you are one of them, you can exert pressure to have it fixed ASAP by contacting both the IRS and the Taxpayer Advocate Service.

One of the artifacts of the Covid-19 pandemic is many hours spent wrestling with overloaded websites. By now you may have heard about (or have firsthand knowledge of) unemployment claims frustrated by crashing state labor department websites, and the lottery-like game to secure time slots for food delivery. Now there’s another occupation to pass the time during your confinement: play roulette on the Internal Revenue Service website. Let’s call this new exercise “Stimulus and Response.”

The Stimulus, of course, is the federal payment made possible by the so-called CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act, which became law on March 27. Under the law, individuals can receive an “economic impact payment” of up to $1,200, and families get an additional $500 for each child under the age of 17 who they claim as a dependent. The IRS estimates that more than 80 million people will be eligible for these payments. The checks, which are supposed to start going out this week, will be in the mail – eventually.

If you’re in a hurry for the money (or prefer not to give Uncle Sam what amounts to an interest-free loan), you can have it directly deposited to your bank account. That will take place automatically if the IRS already has your account information – for instance, if you included it on your most recent tax return so a refund could be electronically deposited. By noon today, friends of friends were posting on Facebook that they had received the payment this way.

Otherwise, you need to play Stimulus and Response, using a new app that the IRS unveiled this morning with a cheerful press release. Their name for it, not surprisingly, was a bit different from mine. They call it “Get My Payment.”

According to the announcement, Get My Payment (which you must use on the IRS website) is supposed to do two things. The more important, from my perspective, is to give people a chance to enter their bank information. Another function is designed for the merely curious, enabling them to track the status of a payment, the amount they will receive and the scheduled delivery date by direct deposit.

Now, if I were building a website, I would not put the system on overload by sending both groups to the same place. But call me silly.

In any event, today, during 46 minutes on the site, I proved myself an abject failure at the game of Stimulus and Response. During that time I repeatedly waited my turn and entered the required information, only to get a variety of messages, without explanation, that the system could not complete my request. After five tries, I struck out, with a screen indicating that I must wait 24 hours before getting back in the game.

Don’t let this discourage you from playing Stimulus and Response. Before you log in here, assemble all the information required:

  • A copy of the most recent tax return you filed, whether for 2018 or 2019. You will need to enter your adjusted gross income (from line 7 of the 2018 return or line 8b on the 2019 form), as well as the exact amount of the tax you paid or were refunded.
  • The routing number and account number of the bank where you want the stimulus payment deposited. (For a checking account, you can find this information printed at the bottom of a check.)

While I was writing this post, describing my travails, a statement from the IRS landed in my e-mail. It said:

“The Get My Payment site is operating smoothly and effectively. As of mid-day today, more than 6.2 million taxpayers have successfully received their payment status and almost 1.1 million taxpayers have successfully provided banking information, ensuring a direct deposit will be quickly sent. …Media reports saying the tool ‘crashed’ are inaccurate.” Oh really?

Deborah L. Jacobs, a lawyer and journalist, is the author of Estate Planning Smarts: A Practical, User-Friendly, Action-Oriented Guide. To purchase the book at a 15 percent discount, order it here and, once it is in your shopping cart, enter the promo code COVID19.


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