What is an EIP card, and might you get one instead of a second stimulus check?

About 4 million people received their stimulus payment through a prepaid debit card called an EIP card, which looks like this. 

Money Network; screenshot by Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

When the first round of coronavirus stimulus payments started rolling out under the CARES Act in April, around 4 million qualifying Americans received their money not as a paper check or direct deposit transaction, but as an Economic Impact Payment (EIP) card. EIP cards are prepaid debit cards with balances you can spend like cash, or transfer into your bank account.

If a second stimulus check goes out as part of another economic stimulus package or as an executive order (here’s what we know about the potential qualifications), the IRS could use the same EIP card system for some payments. And if you got that first payment through an EIP card, could you help the next one arrive a different way?

Read on for a primer on all you need to know about EIP cards and to help figure out if you might be able to get one in 2020, and use our stimulus check calculator to estimate how much you could get.

What is an EIP card?

An EIP card is a prepaid debit card that the Treasury Department has used to distribute stimulus payments under the CARES Act, instead of an electronic monetary transfer or paper checks. The cards were provided to some eligible US residents for whom the government didn’t have banking information. These Visa debit cards can be used to make purchases, get cash from in-network ATMs and transfer funds to your personal bank account without a fee. 

If you’re sent one, after the card arrives, you would head to the EIP card website to activate it and learn more about how to use it. 

Who is eligible for stimulus payments through an EIP card?

Those who were eligible received the first stimulus payment through an EIP card instead of a check if they filed their taxes but the IRS didn’t have their bank account information on hand, and if the tax return was processed by IRS service centers in either Andover, Massachusetts, or Austin, Texas, according to a Treasury press release. It isn’t clear what the significance is of those particular service centers, but we’ve asked the Treasury for more information.   

If a second stimulus bill does get approved, you may get your payment the same way you did the first time around — so if you received an EIP card, you’ll probably get another one. It may be that if you do have new banking information to provide, you could receive your check a different way. 

How would my EIP card arrive? 

If you are eligible, your EIP card will arrive at the address listed on your last tax return in an unmarked envelope from “Money Network Cardholder Services.” Because it wasn’t clearly marked, some people reportedly threw the letter away without opening it during the first round of stimulus payments.

Payment cards are often sent in plain envelopes to deter fraud and thieves. It’s unclear if the IRS would send a second payment in an unmarked envelope too. 

How fast could I get an EIP card if a second stimulus payment is approved?

If another coronavirus relief bill with a second stimulus payment is passed, it could likely take longer to get your EIP card than by direct deposit. When the CARES Act was passed in March, the first EIP cards didn’t start going out until mid-May. But it’s possible that it will be faster this time, since the infrastructure is already in place. We just don’t know yet. 

Once a second stimulus check is approved, you’ll be able to track your money (in whatever form it will take) using the Track My Payment tool from the IRS. If you still haven’t gotten a first stimulus check, you can also track the status of your stimulus check, learn how to report your missing check to the IRS and find possible reasons why your stimulus check still hasn’t arrived.

Could I avoid getting a second EIP card? 

If you have a bank account, you can try signing up for direct deposit with the IRS now through its Get My Payment portal. That way, if another stimulus package is passed and another payment is issued, the IRS will have your bank account information on hand so you could likely get the payment by direct deposit instead of an EIP card. Direct deposit may not be available for everyone, but the portal did allow me to enter my bank information and sign up (I received my first check through the mail).


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How much stimulus money could I get on an EIP card? 

Once a bill is passed, the amount of money you would get in a second stimulus payment (whether it comes via direct deposit, mailed check or EIP card) depends on your AGI, or adjusted gross income, from your tax filings, along with your filing status (single versus joint) and how many dependents you have. (Learn how to find your AGI on your taxes here.) The maximum amount a single taxpayer could get is $1,200. Find out how to calculate how much you could get on a second stimulus payment here

Getting your payment through an EIP card won’t change anything about the calculation or the amount you could get — just the form it will come in. 

Will I be notified if I was supposed to get an EIP card? 

With the first stimulus payments, the IRS sent a letter about your money to your last known address within 15 days after the payment was made. The letter included information on how you got the money (check or direct deposit or EIP card), and how to report it if you didn’t receive the payment. But watch out: There have been a lot of stimulus check scams going around. Visit IRS.gov before giving anyone your information to make sure your letter is legitimate. 

What should I do if my EIP card is lost or destroyed?

Don’t worry: If you’ve lost or destroyed your EIP card, you can request a free replacement through MetaBank Customer Service. The replacement fee will be waived the first time. 

You don’t need to know your card number to request a replacement. Just call 800-240-8100, and choose the second option from the main menu, according to the IRS website

For more, find out if you’re qualified for a second stimulus check and when you can expect a second stimulus payment

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