There is a new wrinkle in the long-running saga of government COVID-19 stimulus payments -- debit cards.
The program has, for the most part, run smoothly despite the amount of work that was required getting computers and multiple government agencies to play nice with each other. The majority of taxpayers began seeing payments deposited into their bank accounts within two weeks of President Donald Trump signing the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act bill into law on March 27, 2020.
Yes, there were issues when someone realized that many Americans, ironically those most at need for stimulus payments, don't pay income taxes. The Treasury Department came up with a plan to get stimulus payments to these people quickly by getting the IRS computers to share information with the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Social Security Administration.
Later, someone realized that, even though the computers were sharing information across agencies, many citizens -- especially veterans -- who rely on government payments as their sole source of income weren't going to receive the extra $500 payments for any children they had under the age of 17. A workaround was developed and, as of the middle of May, this problem has been solved.
So, within six weeks of the COVID-19 stimulus payments being authorized, most citizens had received, or were on the path to receiving, the proper amount of money -- not bad considering all the back office work that had to be done and the fact that the country was in the grips of a nationwide quarantine with workers remaining at home, schools closed, and more.
But soon someone realized there was another issue: Who uses checks anymore?
The government was planning on issuing stimulus payments to more than four million Americans in the form of paper checks. Many of these people don't have bank accounts, and many banks are still closed to walk-in customers. Also, many banks charge non-customers a fee to cash a government check. This was less than ideal.
A new solution has been reached. Now, the government says it will issue prepaid debit cards to people who are still awaiting their stimulus payments. The cards will be mailed soon and are preloaded with the entire amount of the stimulus payment. The cards can be used just like cash to make payments or used to withdraw cash from an ATM.
It is a Treasury-sponsored, VISA-branded, prepaid debit card issued by MetaBank.
If you get an official-looking letter in the mail containing one of these debit cards, you must follow the instructions included with the card to activate it. If you don't activate it, you can't use it.
Once you activate the card, you can use it to make purchases anywhere that Visa debit cards are accepted. You can also get cash back at the register when you make a purchase.
There is no fee to activate the card or use it at any cash register. You can also withdraw cash at any ATM, although you may have to pay a fee at some ATMs.
Be careful. Scammers won't be far behind. If you get an official-looking card in the mail that requires you to pay an activation fee, you can bet it is a scam. Just throw it out.
You can check out the video above to see what the official debit card will look like on the front and the back.
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