Don't throw away those Visa debit cards: They have stimulus cash

Susan Tompor, Detroit Free Press

Here's an Internal Revenue Service alert regarding some recently delivered stimulus payments: Pay attention if you get a plain envelope in the mail that's marked "Money Network Cardholder Services." 

No, folks, it's not a scam. It's real stimulus cash. 

The envelope contains a prepaid debit card that is loaded with your stimulus payment. Do not throw out this envelope or toss aside this card, as it can contain up to $1,200 for single taxpayers. 

The cards are marked Visa debit card, and the back of the card has the logo for MetaBank. 

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No, nothing seems to be simple about the rollout of the stimulus money that's being issued as part of the coronavirus relief effort.

The federal government said it has already delivered stimulus payments totaling $239 billion to more than 140 million Americans. The money has arrived in a variety of ways since April, including direct deposit to bank accounts, Direct Express cards connected to other federal programs and by paper check in the regular mail.

A Visa Debit card, like the one pictured, is being issued to 4 million people who have yet to receive stimulus money, or Economic Impact Payments. Consumers are being told that the cards are not a scam.

Now, some consumers are bewildered when money finally does arrive for them. And some reportedly may have even thrown away such cards. 

Some consumers are bewildered when money finally does arrive for them. And some reportedly may have even thrown away such cards. 

Or even shredded them.

Jacké Dollar said she immediately cut up the Visa debit card shortly after she opened the envelope Tuesday. She has never had a debit card, never wanted one. So when she got this one in the mail, she just cut it up. 

"Today I was thinking, 'Oh my gosh, I bet it's that stimulus thing,' " said Dollar, who is a geriatric care manager in Des Moines, Iowa. 

Dollar, 73, said her work life has become far more complicated since she can no longer visit her clients in nursing homes, thanks to precautions being taken to combat COVID-19. She readily admits she was distracted Tuesday and acted hastily. But she doesn't fault the IRS for sending her a stimulus payment via a debit card. 

"I cut it up myself," she said. 

She's not sure how much money she received in an Economic Impact Payment, but she knows the IRS didn't have her bank account information because she never does anything via direct deposit. 

On Wednesday, she spent much of the day, unsuccessfully, trying to fix the problem by calling the customer service number for the card at 800-240-8100. But the prompts seem to take her nowhere. She ended up writing a letter to try to straighten things out.

A relatively small group – nearly 4 million people – are going to receive their Economic Impact Payment via prepaid debit cards, according to the Internal Revenue Service. The prepaid cards, which started rolling out May 18, are being used for some instead of a paper checks. 

The government is mailing prepaid cards to some who qualified for a stimulus payment but did not have a way, such as bank account information on file with the IRS, for the IRS to directly deposit the payment. 

The IRS has noted previously that it will not send an Economic Impact Payment to an account used to make a payment to the IRS. If the IRS doesn’t have direct deposit bank information for someone, their payment will be mailed to the address the IRS has on file. 

Some consumers received paper checks; others received these prepaid debit cards. 

"The determination of which taxpayers received a debit card was made by the Bureau of the Fiscal Service, a part of the Treasury Department that works with the IRS to handle distribution of the payments," according to an IRS statement released Wednesday afternoon. 

Will I pay any fees? 

If you do get a debit card, the IRS notes, you can avoid any fees with several types of transactions including: 

  • Making purchases online and at any retail location where Visa is accepted
  • Getting cash from in-network ATMs. You could trigger a fee if you go to the wrong ATM. 
  • Transferring funds to your personal bank account
  • Checking your card balance online, by mobile app or by phone

The IRS noted that the free, prepaid card provides consumer protections available to traditional bank account owners, including protection against fraud, loss and other errors.

The Visa debit cards associated with the program do not charge any monthly fees or fees if the card is not used for a length of time. Also, your money does not expire on the cards.

Are you sure this isn't a scam?

Unfortunately, many thought that they spotted a new scam when they saw these envelopes pop up in the mail last week, according to Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller in a report in the The Des Moines Register, part of the USA TODAY Network. 

If you receive one of these cards, you must first activate your card – by phone or online – before you can use it. You're going to need to provide your name, address and Social Security number to validate your identity, according to an online how-to provided by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

You'll also need to create a four-digit PIN so you can get cash at the ATM. If you forget your PIN, you can call customer service to get a new one. And first make sure to check the balance to know how much you received. You can read more information on how to use the cards to avoid any fees at consumerfinance.gov.

For example, consumers would want to use one of the In-Network AllPoint brand ATMs to withdraw cash. Go to EIPCard.com to find such an ATM or use the Money Network Mobile App to locate one near you. Limits may apply to the amount of cash you are able to withdraw at ATMs.

It is also possible to take the card to your own bank or credit union to transfer money from your card to your personal account and then withdraw cash.

Need the money to pay rent?

It is possible to use stimulus cash on one of these Visa debit cards to pay the rent. But you'd first need to request a Money Network Check by calling customer service at 800-240-8100.

And then you'd need to follow a list of necessary steps, including checking your balance to make sure you have enough money to cover your payment. end

What do you do if you threw away the card?

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau how-to offers some suggestions for consumers who may have received these Visa debit cards with stimulus cash but then pitched the plastic cards for some reason. 

"If you think you have misplaced your card, go to EIPCard.com  and lock your card to prevent unauthorized transactions or ATM withdrawals while you look for it," the CFPB said. 

You can call customer service at 800-240-8100 to report your lost or stolen card immediately. Your card will be deactivated so nobody can use it.

"There is a $7.50 fee to order a new replacement card ($17.00 if you need it expedited)," according to the CFPB site.

Follow Susan Tompor on Twitter @tompor.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Visa debit cards arriving by mail have stimulus money loaded on them