Last Monday, after millions of Americans had received their stimulus payments by direct deposit or paper check, the Treasury Department announced plans for a new method of payment: prepaid debit cards. The Economic Impact Payment (EIP) Cards began hitting mailboxes late last week and the problems started immediately, with some people mistaking the envelopes for junk mail and throwing them away and others finding misspelled names and a buggy online portal. Here’s what we know about the EIP debit cards and the many issues people are having with them.
Why are some payments coming on a debit card?
Because it’s faster than sending a check. Last week, in a press release from the Treasure Department, Secretary Steve Mnuchin said the prepaid cards allow the government to send out stimulus payments more “quickly” than checks. The cards are going to people whose bank-account information is not on file with the IRS, making direct deposit impossible.
“Prepaid debit cards are secure, easy to use, and allow us to deliver Americans their money quickly,” Mnuchin said in the release. “Recipients can immediately activate and use the cards safely.”
The Treasury Department also touted a handful of other benefits the cards provide, including the ability to check the card’s balance online and built-in protections against fraud and loss.
How many people are getting debit cards?
Roughly 4 million, according to the Treasury Department. That’s far fewer than the 140 million who received payments by check, direct deposit, or Direct Express card, which is the Treasury-sponsored card for people who receive Social Security but don’t have a bank account.
Who is issuing the card?
According to the IRS, the card will arrive in a “plain envelope from Money Network Cardholder Services.” The vague, spam-like name on the envelope, along with the government’s lack of communication about the debit cards, has led some people to throw them away. One Florida woman told WINK-TV that her card ended up in tiny pieces at the bottom of the trash can. “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.
In Texas, Vicki Wade told KCEN TV that she was suspicious of the card because she’s never heard of Money Network Cardholder Services or MetaBank, which the Treasury Department calls its “financial agent.” She was also suspicious of the instructions to give her personal details to activate the card.
“At first glance you would throw it away. You would. Especially if Money Network is not your bank. It’s not my bank and no one I do business with,” Wade told the station.
How do you activate the card?
You have to call 1-800-240-8100 and give the automated service your name, address, and — close your eyes, cyber-security experts — your Social Security number. You will then be prompted to create a four-digit PIN.
How can the card be used?
People who receive their stimulus payment on a EIP card can keep the money there and use it like a regular debit card until they’ve spent every penny. They can also withdraw cash at an ATM. There’s no fee when using an in-network ATM. A list can be found here.
People can also transfer the money to their bank account for no fee, but that process has caused some headaches. According to the cardholder agreement on eipcard.com, transfers are limited to $1,000 per transaction, $2,500 per day, and $5,000 per month. People have complained about this on Twitter.
Is eipcard.com legit?
Despite appearances to the contrary, it is. The Treasury Department linked out to the site in a press release last week with the text, “Read more about the Economic Impact Payment Card.”
What other problems are people having?
In addition to accidentally throwing the card away and getting thwarted by transfer limits, some people have reported that their name is misspelled on the card.
Others have worried that using the card will allow the government to track their purchases. It won’t, epicard.com says. The site’s FAQ includes the question, “Will the Treasury Department be able to see how I spend my Economic Impact Payment?” The answer: “No. Under Federal law (the Right to Financial Privacy Act), the federal government is not allowed to ask the card issuer about your Card account 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.”
So … what if I threw mine away?
You can get a replacement, but it will cost you. The price for a replacement card is $7.50, provided you’re okay waiting for it. You can pay an extra $17 for expedited shipping.