The Surprising Way You May Get Your Stimulus Payment

Millions of Americans have already received a stimulus payment that came as part of the $2 trillion CARES Act passed in March. Others, meanwhile, are still holding out for that money.

The IRS made it clear that if it had bank account details on file for direct deposit, it could send out those stimulus payments quickly starting in April. Anyone who received a refund for a 2018 or 2019 tax return by direct deposit wasn’t required to do anything to have the same thing happen with a stimulus payment. Meanwhile, the IRS created an online tool that allowed Americans who hadn’t gotten a recent refund to register their bank account information to expedite their stimulus payments.

Man at laptop opening envelope


Those who didn’t give the IRS their bank account information were told they’d ultimately have to wait for a stimulus check to arrive in the mail, and many Americans are, in fact, still without their money. But you may be surprised to learn that your stimulus doesn’t come in check form; it comes as a debit card.

Why a debit card?

A debit card is effectively the same thing as cash, but some Americans may be confused when they open their mail expecting a stimulus check and find a prepaid debit card instead. Not only was there no initial mention of debit cards when stimulus payments were first announced, but to date, it’s not really clear why some people are getting checks and others are receiving these cards.

Making matters worse is the fact that these debit cards are coming in a plain envelope with “Money Network Cardholder Services” listed as the sender. That may lead some Americans to think their stimulus payment is a scam, or, worse yet, junk mail that winds up in the trash. But if you get a debit card with that description in the mail, rest assured that it is, indeed, legitimate. In fact, you should receive information along with that card explaining what it’s for and how to use it.

If you receive a debit card, you’ll need to activate it using the instructions provided before you can use it. From there, you can use that card to buy things in stores, make online purchases, or access cash from an ATM. You’ll also be able to check your card balance online or by phone, which should help you manage your stimulus payment.

Look out for fees

Most of the transactions you engage in using your stimulus debit card should not incur a fee, but some might. For example, if you withdraw money from an out-of-network ATM, you may get charged a fee, and the same holds true for international ATM withdrawals. You’ll also be subject to a replacement fee if your debit card is lost or stolen and you wind up needing a new one. Read the information packet included with your card so you know what to expect. With so many Americans banking on their stimulus cash to stay afloat, the last thing you want to do is get tripped up.

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