Sometime during May or June, you may have received a plain-looking envelope in your mailbox, sent from something called Money Network Cardholder Services. Immediately the envelope seemed suspicious, like just another postal scam. If you opened the envelope at all, you found something equally sketchy: a debit card supposedly issued from an institution you never heard of: “MetaBank.” Since nothing about this unsolicited mailing appeared to pass your personal smell test, you did the “wise” thing and tossed it in to the trash.
We hate to tell you, but that was probably your coronavirus stimulus payment.
Many Americans Thought Those Stimulus Debit Cards Were Fraudulent
Financial columnist Michelle Singletary tipped us off to this strange situation in this column just published in the Washington Post. Recognizing that thousands of unwitting Americans may have tossed out their stimulus payment, our friends at the U.S. Treasury Department are sending out letters telling people how to recover their lost cards, and trying to convince a skeptical public that their stimulus debit card was not a scam.
“So many Americans thought a prepaid debit card they received was a scam or junk mail that Treasury is sending out letters urging people to activate the cards, which were loaded with their stimulus payments,” Singletary writes. The letter also tells panicky citizens how to get that discarded money back.
Stimulus Debit Card Program Was a Good Idea Poorly Communicated
Apparently, the debit card mailing was well-intended. “To speed up the delivery of up to $1,200 in economic impact payments to individuals and up to $2,400 for couples made available under the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (Cares) Act, the Treasury Department mailed prepaid debit cards to 4 million Americans,” says the column. Those cards arrived during May and June in plain envelopes with no outside indication that they were coming from the federal government. The envelope identified the sender as “Money Network Cardholder Services” and the debit card issuer as “MetaBank.”
“The problem was that payment recipients were expecting a check or direct deposit to their bank account,” says Singletary. “People didn’t get any communication that they would be getting a debit card instead. So, when the cards arrived, they thought it was junk mail. Others who had never heard of MetaBank thought it was a scam.” (Singletary wrote an earlier Washington Post column in late May criticizing the IRS for failing to alert taxpayers about what to expect.)
Stimulus Debit Card Program Hampered by a Short-Staffed IRS
Lauren Sanders of the National Consumer Law Center was somewhat sympathetic with the Internal Revenue Service, short-staffed due to the pandemic and under pressure to issue payments quickly. “Ideally, the IRS would have given people a choice about receiving their payment on a prepaid card to avoid this confusion,” Sanders told the Washington Post, “but I understand that they were trying to get as many payments out as quickly as possible, and using the prepaid card added to their capacity.” The agency issued this press release some weeks attempting to explain the debt card program, but confusion persists.
According to Singletary’s column, the IRS is sending out nearly 800,000 letters to those who received their payment by debit card, reminding them that the debit card needs to be activated or else it expires three years from the date of issuance. Any value still out there in un-activated cards after that time goes back into the pockets of Uncle Sam.
Stimulus Debit Card Program: Here’s What to Watch For in the Next IRS Mailing
According to the National Consumer Law Center, there are several telltale signs which will alert you that the soon-to-be-sent IRS letter is the real McCoy. These include:
- The U.S. Treasury logo and the following notice: “Not a bill or an advertisement. Important information about your Economic Impact Payment.”
- The following return address: “Economic Impact Payment Card, PO Box 247022, Omaha, NE 68124-7022.”
- An enclosed letter including the statement: “The EIP Card Program is sponsored by the U.S. Department of the Treasury.”
- Instructions to call the IRS at 800-240-8100 if your card is lost or stolen, or if you require a replacement. (There is no fee for the first replacement card.)
Announcing Seminars with a Choice: In-Person Events Return, Webinars Also Available
For several months our popular LifePlanning Seminars with Rajiv Nagaich have been offered online only. But now as COVID-19 restrictions are starting to be eased, we AgingOptions are excited to announce a new series of in-person seminars coming soon. For now Rajiv will only be offering in-person events in communities where gatherings are permitted under the governor’s phased reopening plan. Of course, these events will be conducted in a way that’s consistent with all health guidelines.
Our chief desire is to help you prepare for the kind of retirement you’ve always dreamed of having. LifePlanning is a powerful process that combines financial planning with a housing strategy, a medical plan, a legal foundation plus a plan to involve your loved ones in all aspects of the choices you make as you age. With finances, housing, medical, legal and family all working together, you have a fully integrated LifePlan.
Because of health safeguards, enrollment at our upcoming in-person seminars will be strictly limited. We urge you to visit our Events Page and register now for the LifePlanning Seminar that works for you. Also, as we said above, Rajiv continues to offer his free LifePlanning Seminars in the form of webinars that you can watch conveniently at home. You’ll find a calendar and other important links here on our AgingOptions website.
Reliable information has never been more important – online or in person! That’s our promise to you at AgingOptions. Age on!
(originally reported at www.washingtonpost.com)