Coronavirus stimulus checks: Prepaid debit cards create headaches for some Americans

Some Americans who are getting their coronavirus stimulus check by debit card are running into problems with their payments.

Some have received prepaid cards with the wrong names on them, while others have mistakenly thrown out the government aid because the mailing looked like spam, according to interviews, tweets, and online complaints.

Read more: Coronavirus stimulus checks: How to use your payment debit card

One of the problems got the attention of the Internal Revenue Service, which put out a bulletin on Wednesday describing the envelope in which the debit card would be mailed, so recipients don’t accidentally throw it out.

The hiccups add to the number of stumbling blocks some Americans have faced getting their stimulus checks as the government raced to get the much-needed relief into people’s wallets.

President Donald Trump's name is seen on a stimulus check issued by the IRS to help combat the adverse economic effects of the COVID-19 outbreak, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

‘It’s a hassle’

Chris Barton and his wife got their stimulus payment debit card on Saturday, but when he opened the envelope, the card had the incorrect name on it.

“The name that's on my card for me, it's a name, but that does not exist,” Barton, 48, said. “It has the combination of my first name and my wife’s last name. We have different last names.”

The plain envelope Chris Barton received his stimulus debit card in. Photo: Courtesy of Chirs Barton

The card holds the stimulus payment for both he and his wife, since they file their taxes jointly. But there’s only one primary recipient on the card — that’s Barton, not his wife — so he’s the only one who can activate the card.

“I'm just not comfortable activating a card using my Social Security number with a name that's not mine,” Barton said.

Barton doesn’t know how much is on the card and can’t check since he can’t activate it. But as a married couple filing jointly, he and his wife are eligible for up to $2,400. Fortunately, they don’t urgently need the money, but it could help in this uncertain time.

“It’s a hassle,” said Barton, who emailed MetaBank, the card issuer, which couldn't help the couple based on the information they provided. “That’s relief that would be welcome, but that has been an additional hurdle thrown up in the front of it.”

‘Easy to use’

The majority of stimulus checks have been distributed already, with over 152 million Americans receiving their payments, according to the latest data from the IRS. Around 4 million people will get the prepaid debits cards, according to the Treasury, instead of a paper check, a move that was announced last week.

The recipients are those without bank information on file who are eligible for the payment and had their tax return processed by the Andover or Austin IRS Service Center.

Around 4 million people will get the prepaid debits cards, according to the Treasury. Photo: Money Network Financial

The cards are mailed by the Treasury’s bank agent, MetaBank, along with instructions on how to activate and use the card. The recipients can make purchases, withdraw cash from ATMs, or transfer money to their bank account without additional fees.

Read more: Coronavirus stimulus checks: Here's how people are spending their relief money

“Prepaid debit cards are secure, easy to use, and allow us to deliver Americans their money quickly,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement at the time of the announcement. “Recipients can immediately activate and use the cards safely.”

‘Into the shredder it went’

But Barton wasn’t expecting a mailed prepaid card because he thought his banking information was on file. “I thought it was a scam,” he said.

Similarly, 33-year-old Amber of Texas, said the mailing looked like “one of those cards...that act kind of like a payday loan.”

She said her direct deposit information was on file with the IRS and the agency’s online tracking tool said she would get a paper check, so she wasn’t expecting a debit card.

US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin shows US President Donald Trump a pre-paid debit card during a meeting with his cabinet on May 19, 2020 in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, DC. (Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

“It really read to me like a scam,” said Amber, who asked to use her first name only because she is worried someone might steal her stimulus payment. “So into the shredder it went.”

The debit card should have had up to $2,900 on it with her husband and child also qualifying for the payment. But Amber didn’t recognize Metabank, the issuer of the card.

“I received so many of those, pre-approved cards just in the course of a week, I'm not in the habit of carefully checking,” she said. “Especially when I wasn't expecting it.”

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Two days after she shredded the card, she saw the news about the distribution of debit cards. She contacted Metabank and they were able to cancel the card and issue a replacement after “quite a wait” before getting to speak to a representative.

“When my husband told the customer service rep what I’d done, she’d told us that had been the bulk of the calls she’s received,” Amber said.

For her, getting the money now would have made a significant difference for her household finances.

“It's something that would have been of big benefit to us at this point because all of our work has been reduced down to nothing,” Amber said. “So, it's money that is well needed and welcomed.”

Denitsa is a writer for Yahoo Finance and Cashay, a new personal finance website. Follow her on Twitter @denitsa_tsekova.

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