With little or no advance notice, millions of Americans are getting unsolicited debit cards in the mail — but these are neither a scam nor a sales pitch. The VISA cards are the latest rendition of the government’s stimulus payments.
While many Americans have received money either by check or direct deposit — typically $1,200 per person for those who qualify — others are now getting the VISA debit cards.
They arrive in a plain white envelope from Money Network Cardholder Services. Inside is a letter with the emblem of the U.S. Treasury Department and a VISA debit card from MetaBank.
At first glance, many people may assume the cards are either just another credit card pitch or maybe an outright scam.
“We literally had someone yesterday who had cut it into little bitty pieces,” said Vicki Webb, senior vice president at First Bank in McComb. “And when they found it was legit, they called the 1-800 number and got a check issued.”
The letter summarizes conditions of the debit card and refers recipients to a website, EIPCard.com, which stands for Economic Impact Payment. The website contains page after page of terms and conditions, but the bottom line is it’s a standard debit card and can be used as such.
Activating the card involves coming up with a four-digit PIN number and calling a 1-800 number, where an automated voice leads the caller through a surprisingly quick and easy process to activate the card.
People can use the card like any other debit or credit cards, keeping up with their balance online or via phone. Depositing the funds into a bank is trickier.
“It tells you in the instructions you can have it put into your bank account, and people are finding that very difficult to do. They’re getting error messages,” Webb said.
Supposedly people can use a routing number and bank account number to transfer the funds, but that’s not working for everyone.
Even when people take their cards to the bank, the tellers have trouble transferring the funds as well.
“We’re trying to help them. It’s not working the way it should. As with so many other things that they’ve tried to do, it’s just overwhelmed the system,” Webb said.
Couples who file joint tax returns may get the cards in both their names. The primary card holder — the first name listed — must activate the card.
People who lose — or shred — their cards can call a 1-800 number to get them replaced.
“It’s just like any other debit card,” Webb said. “They can use it to pay bills, they can get money out of the ATM, but they should just be able to transfer it to their checking account.”
She said banks learned about the cards a couple weeks ago through their trade associations. Many people have never heard of the cards until they get them.
“They (feds) should have done a better job informing people that they were changing from checks to these cards,” Webb said.
The situation is reminiscent of the Payroll Protection Program, which allows banks to make loans to small businesses hurt by the pandemic.
“The loan forgiveness part is a 12-page application,” Webb said.
“The intent is good. There are lot of issues. It’s just too much right now. The trade association is trying to get through to them how tough these 12-page applications are to fill out.”
The Treasury Department announced the debit cards on its website May 18.
According to the news release, “This week, Treasury and the IRS are starting to send nearly 4 million Economic Impact Payments (EIPs) by prepaid debit card, instead of by paper check. EIP Card recipients can make purchases, get cash from in-network ATMs, and transfer funds to their personal bank account without incurring any fees. They can also check their card balance online, by mobile app, or by phone without incurring fees. The EIP Card can be used online, at ATMs, or at any retail location where Visa is accepted. This free, prepaid card also provides consumer protections available to traditional bank account owners, including protections against fraud, loss, and other errors.”