The IRS is sending prepaid debit cards to certain eligible taxpayers who filed tax returns but for whom the IRS doesn’t have bank account information. The stimulus payment is loaded on the debit card.
In some cases, cards (and checks) may be going out to taxpayers who got the first stimulus payment by direct deposit. And in some cases, taxpayers may have moved or changed banks since they got their first stimulus checks. The IRS does not determine who receives a prepaid debit card.
Your Economic Impact Payment (EIP) card will arrive in an envelope from “Money Network Cardholder Services.” Don’t throw it away thinking it’s junk mail or a scam. The Visa name will appear on the front of the EIP card; the back of the card has the name of the issuing bank, MetaBank, N.A., of Omaha, Nebraska. The envelope will also include the Treasury Department seal to help prevent people from throwing it away. Note that you can’t request to receive your stimulus payment by debit card — it either arrives that way or it doesn’t.
Don’t throw away your stimulus payment by accident
Why would you do that? For one thing, people are rightly suspicious of unsolicited cards received through the mail. In addition, the IRS might send you an EIP card even if its Get My Payment tool says you’ll be receiving a check. AARP has heard from members that some people suspect the cards are a fraud or an unsolicited credit card offer. As a result, some people have shredded them or thrown them away.
Naturally, whenever there’s money involved, there are scammers trying to take it from you. Still, for the 4 million people who receive those EIP prepaid debit cards, the money can be a lifeline in the pandemic. Here’s how to avoid losing your stimulus payment.
- You’ll get a letter with your EIP card telling you how to activate it. Be very careful that you call the phone number correctly. Don’t search the internet for the number. Scammers sometimes set up fake customer service numbers to deceive people and steal their personal information.
- Don’t give your personal identification number (PIN), EIP debit card number or Social Security number to anyone who calls or texts you.
- Check your mail carefully to avoid tossing your EIP card out with your junk mail.
If you’ve destroyed or thrown out your EIP card, don’t panic. Call the toll-free customer service line at 800-240-8100 (TTY: 800-241-9100) to ask for a replacement.
You can find additional information at the official EIP website (EIPCard.com).
AARP’s Fraud Watch Network can help you spot and avoid scams. Sign up for free “watchdog alerts,” review our scam-tracking map, or call our toll-free fraud help line at 877-908-3360 if you or a loved one suspect you’ve been a victim.
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How to activate your EIP card
You will get a new EIP card for the latest stimulus round; if you got an EIP card for the previous stimulus, the IRS won’t refill it. Call 800-240-8100 (TTY: 800-241-9100) to activate your new card. You’ll need to provide your name, address and Social Security number. You will also be asked to create a four-digit personal identification number (PIN) required for ATM transactions and automated assistance and to hear your balance. For security, don’t use personal information as your PIN. For cards with more than one name, only the primary cardholder (listed first) may activate the card. There is no charge to activate the card.
You can create a user name and password for your card online at the Money Network site. Be sure to have your card handy when you log in. You can see your balance and transaction history online any time at EIPCard.com. You can get the same information by calling the toll-free number (800-240-8100).
How to use your EIP card
You can generally use your card without a fee to make purchases anywhere Visa debit cards are accepted — in stores, online or over the phone. You can also use your EIP card to pay most bills, get cash back with a PIN debit purchase (where available), buy groceries, and get cash from ATMs that carry the Allpoint or MoneyPass brands. (You can search for surcharge-free ATMs at EIPCard.com.) And you may be able to pay your mortgage or rent if your bank or landlord accepts Visa payments.
Although most transactions don't charge a fee, a few do. For example, you’ll pay 25 cents for each balance inquiry at an ATM, and $2 for each out-of-network withdrawal after your first one.
You can also easily transfer the money on your EIP card to your bank at EIPCard.com or by using the Money Network Mobile App, which can be downloaded onto a smart phone. The transaction limit on transfers to a bank account is $2,500.
You will need the routing and account numbers for your bank account. If you lose your card (or accidentally throw it out), you can get a free replacement through MetaBank customer service. It will also waive any initial fee charged to a customer from an earlier date. You don’t need to know your card number to request a replacement, and you can also request a replacement by calling 800-240-8100 and choosing option 2 from the main menu.
Privacy and spending limits
The government won’t be able to ask how much is on your EIP card, and the card issuer is not allowed to give the government information about your card account without your written permission (except under very limited circumstances). The government can’t withdraw money from your EIP card. Your spending limit is the amount you received for your stimulus payment.
The IRS will mail a letter about the stimulus payment to the individual’s address of record within 15 days after the payment is made. Beware of websites and social media attempts that request money or personal information and of schemes tied to Economic Impact Payments.
Again, where there is money, there are people looking to take it, and your card is no exception. Make sure you have a secure PIN, and don’t give it to anyone. Beware of online phishing scams trying to get your card number and PIN. If you think someone has made an unauthorized purchase, call the toll-free number.
Your card may be declined if you try to spend above the limit, or you may have to use cash to pay the amount over what’s in your account. In some cases, such as when you’re buying gas, the merchant may put a temporary hold on your card balance — sometimes more than the amount of the purchase. Once processed, the money will be released and your balance will be adjusted. Pre-authorized funds may take up to seven days to be released back to your card account balance. For car rentals, it can take up to 31 days.
John Waggoner covers all things financial for AARP, from budgeting and taxes to retirement planning and Social Security. Previously he was a reporter for Kiplinger’s Personal Finance and USA Today and has written books on investing and the 1998 financial crisis. Waggoner’s USA Today investing column ran in dozens of newspapers for 25 years.