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July 2, 2020, 2:56 p.m. EDT

Don’t toss that junk mail in the recycling bin just yet — it might contain your stimulus check in the form of a prepaid debit card

The IRS says many people threw out their prepaid stimulus cards by mistake, and is mailing letters about unactivated cards

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By Nicole Lyn Pesce


MarketWatch photo illustration/iStockphoto, eipcard.com
Nearly 4 million Americans will get their stimulus payments in the form of a debit card.

If you’ve been throwing away your junk mail, then you might have thrown away your stimulus payment.

The U.S. Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service sent out Economic Impact Payments as prepaid debit cards to roughly 2 million Americans in May. Problem is, many taxpayers still waiting for their cut of the $2.2 trillion CARES Act didn’t get the message that they should be expecting to get their stimulus money in the form of an EIP Card, as opposed to a paper check. And the IRS is concerned that people may have thrown them out, as many of the stimulus debit cards it mailed out last month still haven’t been activated.

So now people who have still not received their Economic Impact Payments should be keeping an eye out for new letters from the IRS, the revenue service announced Thursday, which will notify them that they may have an unactivated prepaid EIP card.

“These new letters, like the prepaid cards, are not a scam,” the IRS emphasized in a new announcement on Thursday, which included images of what the envelope looks like ( see here ), as well as a sample letter ( see here ). Anyone who has not received the card, or who has accidentally thrown it out, should call 800-240-8100. If the letter you receive has a different phone number on it, the IRS warned, then it is likely a scam.

Anyone who has not received the card, or who has accidentally thrown it out, should call 800-240-8100.

So why the confusion over these cards? Well, these Visa cards are being issued by MetaBank (the Treasury’s financial agent) and delivered in plain envelopes from Money Network Cardholder Services — neither of which is a familiar name for most of us. So reports of people mistaking these for preapproved credit-card junk mail, or even a scam, have popped up across the country. And, in some cases, people have even thrown away the debit cards containing their long-awaited stimulus money before they realized their mistake.

Related: This is how fast Americans are spending their stimulus checks — and here’s a breakdown of what they’re buying

Thomas and Bonnie Moore of southwest Florida are one such pair. They told local CBS /zigman2/quotes/200340870/composite VIAC +3.76% affiliate WINK-TV that they chucked their EIP Card because they were expecting a stimulus check from the U.S. Treasury. “My husband looked at it, briefly read it and he said, ‘Do you want this?’ And I said, ‘I don’t need another fake card,’ so he cut it up in little pieces,” Bonnie Moore said. “The next thing you see is I am in the garbage can trying to pull out all of the pieces together, which did not work.”

Their neighbor also told the outlet that he found his prepaid debit card suspicious because it bore no official federal insignia, and the return address was in Omaha, Neb. “Doesn’t sound like the federal government to me,” he said.

Wall Street Journal (March 30): Trump wants his signature to appear on coronavirus stimulus checks

Also: Trump’s signature to be on stimulus checks, delaying mailing process: report

Several people have also complained on Twitter /zigman2/quotes/203180645/composite TWTR -0.90%  that they mistook their EIP Cards for junk mail:

And this has led several authorities to reassure consumers that the EIP Cards are legit. Both the Nassau County district attorney’s office in New York and the Belmont, Mass., police department have tweeted that this is “not a scam.” Better Business Bureau offices in Texas , Colorado and Alabama have all been fielding calls from concerned consumers asking if the debit cards are real. And the Iowa attorney general’s office said it received dozens of calls about the cards. “People were very confused, wondering what these were,” a spokeswoman told a local NBC /zigman2/quotes/209472081/composite CMCSA +3.11% affiliate. “They were throwing these in the garbage.”

Neither the IRS nor the Treasury Department responded to MarketWatch requests for comment on the confusion nor on the complaints about receiving debit cards instead of checks. But the IRS has tweeted “reminders” that “millions of people are getting Economic Impact Payments by prepaid debit card mailed in plain envelopes from Money Network Cardholder Services.”

What’s more, the IRS recently issued a press release with the subject line: “Economic Impact Payments being sent by prepaid debit cards, arrive in plain envelope.” It also answered several “frequently asked questions” about the cards, such as how the cards could be used without fees.

Because, yes, there are some fees tied to these EIP Cards, including a $7.50 replacement charge if the card is lost.

Among the dissatisfied customers complaining online about getting a debit card instead of a direct deposit or a check were those saying they’d prefer, and expected, a payment form that they could more easily cash or deposit into a bank account:

The Internal Revenue Service had distributed more than 128 million checks and paid over $218 billion by early May. This includes $1,200 payments to individuals with adjusted gross income below $75,000 and $2,400 to married couples filing taxes jointly who earn under $150,000, with payouts prorated above those income thresholds. And that money can’t come soon enough for the millions of Americans out of work since the coronavirus temporarily shut down large swaths of the economy.

Related: Do I have to pay back my $1,200 stimulus check? Don’t fall for these 5 myths about the stimulus payments

May 13 was the last day that Americans could submit direct-deposit information to receive stimulus checks, which means payments will arrive as either checks or debit cards moving forward.

So if you’re still awaiting your stimulus payment, visit the online Get My Payment tool to find the projected date when a direct deposit has been scheduled, or when your payment will be mailed by check or prepaid debit card.

Read more: Why haven’t I gotten my stimulus check? 6 reasons your payment might be a no-show

And here’s some important things you need to know about the prepaid debit cards, including what they look like, how they can be used — and where there could be hidden fees. You can also see an exhaustive list of questions and answers at the EIP Card website eipcard.com/faq or by calling customer service at 1-800-240-8100.

Who’s getting a debit card?

Nearly 4 million people will receive a prepaid debit card instead of a paper check, which was determined by the Bureau of the Fiscal Service, another part of the Treasury Department that works with the IRS to handle distribution of the payments. In some cases, people who qualified for an Economic Impact Payment, but whose bank account information was not on file with the IRS, received a debit card in lieu of a check or a direct deposit.

How will I receive my card, and what does it look like?

The EIP Cards are being sent to the most recent mailing address filed with the IRS. The cards will arrive in a plain envelope from Money Network Cardholder Services. The Visa name will appear on the front of the card, and the back of the card will feature the name of the issuing bank, MetaBank, N.A. The Welcome Packet will include information explaining that the card is an Economic Impact Payment Card.

Check it out:


epicard.com
Behold the EIP Card, a prepaid debit card containing one’s stimulus payment.

The mailing will not include your balance, however. You’ll have to call and activate your card to find out how much stimulus money you get

How do I use my card?

You will need to call 1-800-240-8100 to activate your card, and you will be asked to verify your identity by providing your name, address and the last six digits of your Social Security Number. You will also be asked to create a four-digit PIN required for ATM transactions and automated assistance and to hear your balance. Then you will register your card online at EIPCard.com , where you will create a user ID and a password, which you can also use on the accompanying Money Network Mobile App.

You can use your EIP Card to make purchases at stores accepting Visa cards. During checkout, you’ll insert your card into the reader or present it to the cashier. You may be asked to enter your four-digit PIN number or to sign for the transaction. You can also get cash back at participating merchants by punching in your PIN number.

When shopping online (at merchants who accept Visa /zigman2/quotes/203660239/composite V +0.18% , naturally), you’ll need to enter the 16-digit card number when checking out, along with the expiration date and the three-digit code from the back of the card. You’ll also need to enter the billing address associated with your EIP Card.

For both shopping in stores and online, there is a $2,500 limit per transaction and per day limit. And the merchant’s cash back limit may be less.

How do I cash out the card?

You can withdraw cash at ATMs, get cash-back from participating merchants, or withdraw cash from a bank or credit union. But only some of these methods are free, and there are some limits to how much cash you can take at once.

Cash from an ATM: There’s no fee to withdraw cash at in-network ATMs, but fees may apply if you use an out-of-network ATM. Refer to this ATM Locator to determine which ones are in-network. To get cash, simply use this card like you would any debit card: insert the card, enter your PIN and select “Withdraw” from “Checking.” Just be warned that there’s a $1,000 ATM withdrawal limit per transaction and per day, and individual bank limits may be lower.

Cash back from participating merchants: As you would with any other debit card, select “Debit” when paying, then enter your PIN and select “yes” for the cash-back option. Enter the amount and then hit “OK.” Once again, there’s a $2,500 per transaction and per day limit, although individual merchant cash-back limits may be lowe.

Cash from a bank or credit union teller: You can visit any bank or credit union branch to withdraw cash, but fees may apply (except for your very first withdrawal with the card.) You’ll need to know your balance beforehand, since the teller cannot tell how much money is on your EPI Card. You’ll also need to know your PIN for the card, and you will probably be asked for an additional form of ID, such as a government-issued photo ID card. Then you’ll ask the teller for the amount that you would like to withdraw. There’s a $2,500 per transaction and per day limit, although the bank’s limit may also be less.

What if I just want to transfer my balance into my bank account?

You can transfer the funds from your EIP Card to your bank account online at EIPCard.com or using the Money Network Mobile App. You will need the routing number and the account number for your bank account, and you will need to have activated your EIP Card.

To transfer funds: Call 1-800-240-8100 to activate your EIP Card.

Register for online or mobile app access by going to EIPCard.com or the Money Network Mobile App and click on “Register.” Follow the steps to create your User ID and Password. Be sure to have your EIP Card handy.

Select “Move Money Out” and follow the steps to set up your ACH transfer. Transfers should post to your bank account in 1-2 business days. There’s a limit of $1,250 per transaction, $2,500 per day and $5,000 per month.

So what are the fees?

Those who receive their Economic Impact Payment by prepaid debit card can do the following without any fees:

• Make purchases online and at any retail location where Visa is accepted.

• Get cash from in-network ATMs.

• Transfer funds to their personal bank account.

• Check their card balance online, by mobile app or by phone.

But you will be charged $2 for withdrawing money from out-of-network ATMS — after your first ATM withdrawal. Of course, you may also be charged a fee by the ATM operator, even if you do not complete a transaction. Refer to this ATM Locator.

There’s also a $5 bank teller over-the-counter cash withdrawal fee, although once again, the first time you withdraw funds from your card at a teller will be free. So if you’re planning to cash out your card from an ATM or a bank, the lesson here is to take it all out at once, if you can.

Perhaps most importantly, there’s a $7.50 fee to reissue a lost or stolen card. It will be shipped in seven to 10 business days after the reissue order is placed. If you want that card to be sent four to seven days after the order is placed, there’s also a $17 priority shipping fee.

Will the government be tracking what I spend the money on?

No. Under the Right to Financial Privacy Act, the federal government is not allowed to ask the card issuer about your EIP Card account, and the card issuer is not allowed to give the government information about your EIP Card account without your written permission, except under very limited circumstances.

So these cards aren’t a scam — but what IRS scams should I watch out for?

Be warned that the IRS will never call, text, email or reach out to you over social media to say it needs more information to process a payment. The same goes for banks and credit unions. You will only get such IRS correspondence by mail. Here are five red flags to watch out for from scammers trying to steal your stimulus money.

Any additional questions can be answered by visiting eipcard.com/faq .

This article was originally published on May 27, and has been updated with the pending IRS letters about unactivated EIP cards.

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