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Some of your stimulus check money might be lost if you’re not spending it

Published Jun 26th, 2020 2:23PM EDT
Stimulus check update
Image: ERIK S LESSER/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

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  • Any stimulus check update you might have read in recent days probably hasn’t touched on one of the most frustrating parts of the emergency coronavirus relief from the federal government that pushed out direct payments to millions of Americans.
  • Some 4 million Americans have received prepaid debit cards in lieu of stimulus checks.
  • Those debit cards, however, have included annoying fees as well as come with privacy issues, like the possibility that user data could be shared with third-party marketers.

Instead of receiving a stimulus check, either in paper form via the mail or electronically as a bank direct deposit, some 4 million Americans got an alternative that was meant to get money into their hands quickly — and in a format that made it easy to go ahead and start spending that money. For the latter group of people, the money came in the form of a prepaid debit card, loaded up with their share of the federal government’s stimulus money (at least $1,200 for individuals, and $2,400 for married couples). These debit cards should have all been received by now, and the money is now being spent, even as lawmakers and President Trump grapple with how to press forward with a new round of stimulus checks.

However, there’s an aspect of those debit cards that hasn’t really received much attention, and certainly not as much as the attention overall dedicated to the prospect of new stimulus checks. Not only that, but it’s quite infuriating and deserves peoples’ attention.

Here’s what you need to know about those debit cards.

For one thing, the debit cards — which proved to be a lifeline for many people, as coronavirus-related unemployment and financial crises around the country remain pervasive — come with strings attached. According to a letter from a group of US Senators to US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and IRS commissioner Charles Rettig, the cards include fees as well as a data-sharing requirement (with the possibility that data could end up in the hands of marketers).

The letter, among other things, laments the fact that the cards require recipients to provide “significant personally identifiable information” to activate them as well as to transfer money from the cards. Additionally, the cards — which are issued by MetaBank and managed by Money Network Financial — are governed by a cardholder agreement which reads, in part, that Money Network Financial “may disclose information to third parties about your Card account or the transactions you make” to ambiguously described third parties.

That language, the senators note in their letter, “raises serious questions about whether Money Network Financial is permitted to sell personal information of individuals who activated stimulus payment debit cards.”

In terms of fees associated with the cards — and, remember, these cards went out to people, many of whom were in serious financial straits — they cost $7.50 to replace if you lose yours. Many people did replace them because when they first received their card in the mail, they didn’t know what they were looking at and assumed it was junk mail. The tax agency updated this to say the reissuance fee will be waived.

However, the senators complained in their letter about another fee associated with the cards. The replacement cards take between seven to 10 business days to arrive, but if people want to get the cards faster (in between four and seven days), they’re charged a whopping $17 fee.

Andy Meek Trending News Editor

Andy Meek is a reporter based in Memphis who has covered media, entertainment, and culture for over 20 years. His work has appeared in outlets including The Guardian, Forbes, and The Financial Times, and he’s written for BGR since 2015. Andy's coverage includes technology and entertainment, and he has a particular interest in all things streaming.

Over the years, he’s interviewed legendary figures in entertainment and tech that range from Stan Lee to John McAfee, Peter Thiel, and Reed Hastings.