What ‘Payment Status Not Available’ on the IRS coronavirus aid site means

The United States Internal Revenue Service launched a website for tracking coronavirus stimulus checks today, but some users are getting told their payment status is “not available,” and even after an official explanation was posted online, they have basically no way of knowing what’s wrong.

The new IRS “Get My Payment” portal is supposed to help people find out if they’re eligible for one of the $1,200 relief checks that are being sent to many Americans, and then let them enter bank account information for a direct deposit or tell them that the payment has been processed. The idea is to speed the release of money that many citizens desperately need. But the system has shown many people the confounding error message of “Payment Status Not Available,” since it launched, leading the phrase to trend on Twitter and show up in a slew of messages on Reddit.

The only explanation for the error on the page says “according to information that we have on file, we cannot determine your eligibility for a payment at this time,” with a link to a long FAQ that has the relevant information about midway down the page.

IRS Coronavirus relief “Payment Status Not Available” message

According to that IRS FAQ, here’s when you might see the “payment status unavailable” message:

  • If you are not eligible for a payment
  • If you are required to file a tax return and have not filed in tax year 2018 or 2019
  • If you recently filed your return or provided information through Non-Filers: Enter Your Payment Info on IRS.gov
  • If you are a SSA or RRB Form 1099 recipient, SSI or VA benefit recipient

That.. is a lot of different reasons. Making it worse, “payment status unavailable” also appears if you simply enter a made-up social security number, birth date, and address combination, so it appears to be generic catch-all error for the system, instead of a useful or actionable error message.

The IRS asserted this afternoon that its website is “operating smoothly and effectively,” saying that 6.2 million taxpayers have received their status. But that’s an incredibly frustrating design choice. The vague feedback leaves people guessing if they’re even supposed to get a check, let alone whether it’s being held up by their tax filing or benefits status. (In case it’s not clear, “we don’t know if you’re eligible for money” can literally mean “we know you’re not eligible for money” here.)

Some Reddit posters speculate that the response is a glitch or a sign that the site is over capacity. The agency is trying to avoid overloading by sending some people to a “waiting room” landing page, but it hasn’t ruled out the prospect of people seeing the “payment status unavailable” message in error. To make things worse, entering information too many times can get you locked out of the system for 24 hours.

We left a phone message with the IRS media hotline, hoping to get more information. But people looking for their payments don’t even have that recourse, because the FAQ repeats several times that you shouldn’t contact the agency directly.

The IRS has built an understandably simple system during a crisis, and some Verge staffers have been able to access their status just fine, although at least one has gotten the “not available” message. But while the world is full of nerve-wracking uncertainties, at least give us the solace of a well-composed error page.

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