U.S. government chose plastic for stimulus payments, when many were expecting paper checks – The Denver Post

Colorado residents have thrown away government-issued debit cards loaded with thousands of dollars, and they describe a frustrating process when it comes to trying to get the money restored.

“I was devastated when I realized that I had thrown away $2,400,” said Arvada resident Melody Sexton. “When I tried to keep calling the toll-free number, it was not helpful at all.”

The U.S. Treasury Department, through its vendor MetaBank, recently sent out millions of Visa debit cards with up to $1,200 per person in economic impact payments (EIP) to households across the country. The cards are coming in nondescript white envelopes with an Omaha return address from Money Network Cardholder Services, a name unfamiliar to most people.

The cards are going out to taxpayers who didn’t receive their EIP via a direct deposit. Warned to be on the lookout for COVID-19 scams and expecting a direct deposit or paper check, people across the country have discarded the prepaid debit cards as junk mail.

After publishing a story on the EIP Card last Saturday, The Denver Post heard from more than a dozen readers who tossed out the envelopes, were about to toss them out or were struggling to get help with the cards.

Some shredded the cards immediately. Others put them in a pile on the desk and waited to find out if they were legitimate, a case where procrastination paid off.

One Golden retiree described putting the mailer in the recycling bin, which is picked up every two weeks. Realizing his mistakes days later, he dumped the bin’s contents out on his patio and began a treasure hunt, eventually finding the card.

Erin Dolin, a spokeswoman for MetaBank, directed people to an extensive Q&A section at eipcard.com/faq that should answer almost any question that comes up. Here is what it advises.

“If your Card is discarded or destroyed, it is important that you call Customer Service at 1.800.240.8100 (TTY: 1.800.241.9100) immediately and select the “Lost/Stolen” option.”

Cards will be deactivated to prevent anyone else from using them, and a replacement card will be ordered. The first reissued card is free, and after that, there is a $7.50 charge, MetaBank said.

Some people are hitting option 1, which is used to activate a card or reach a live customer service representative. But that option will request a card number, something that someone who threw away the card can’t offer and will frustrate them.

Option 2 is for lost or stolen cards, but it doesn’t provide a customer service representative. That option will request the last six digits of the caller’s Social Security number and  ZIP code. But if a couple filed their taxes jointly, there could be some confusion about whose information to provide. It should be for the head of the household on the tax return, something MetaBank has tried to clarify.

Sexton provided the information requested under her husband’s name, which the system accepted. But then she didn’t receive confirmation that a replacement card was coming. She has no clue if the effort worked or not.

Here’s another predicament. Some people may not be sure whether they threw out the mailer. If personal information is entered and it doesn’t line up with a card that was issued, callers are told to contact the IRS website, which is irs.gov/coronavirus/economic-impact-payments.

That IRS website helps people determine if they are eligible for a payment, which should be everyone who filed taxes in 2018 or 2019, and who came in under the income cutoff, which is $99,000 per individual filer and $198,000 per couple filing jointly.

There is also an income range where the full $1,200 payment gets phased out. That explains why some individuals are receiving less than $1,200. MetaBank isn’t trying to rip them off or pocket a big fee.

One reason the U.S. Treasury used debit cards was that it lacked the capacity to print the millions of EIP checks required quickly. Plastic cards offered a quicker option, but one that is not sitting well with many people.

“I would have preferred paper,” Sexton said.

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