March 2, 2021

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Will your third stimulus payment arrive as an EIP card instead of a check? What to know – CNET

7 min read
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You can do certain things now to try to make sure your potential third stimulus check arrives via direct deposit instead of on an EIP card.

Angela Lang/CNET

In the first and second round of stimulus checks, millions of people were surprised to learn that their money would not be arriving by direct deposit or a mailed paper check, but as an Economic Impact Payment debit card. The same could end up being true of the third stimulus payment for up to $1,400 per person, included in President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus plan, which Congress is working through now. We won’t know anything for sure until Congress passes the final bill, but we can make an educated guess based on the way things went in the last two rounds. 

In the second round of stimulus checks, the IRS send out about 8 million payments on EIP cards — twice as many as in the first round. The IRS told CNET the cards helped them deliver payments as rapidly as possible, though they didn’t explain why. It’s possible that this will be the case again with a third check, as the IRS will likely be trying to send out the payments as quickly as possible (here’s how you could potentially get your third check faster). 

Whatever happens, we have answers to some of the most common questions you may have about stimulus checks in the form of an EIP card, including how to use one if it arrives in your mailbox. CNET also has guides on how to claim any missing stimulus money from the first two rounds of checks on your taxes, what you need to know about stimulus checks and SSI and SSDI, and how qualifications may change with a third stimulus check

What is an EIP card, and what does it mean for stimulus checks?

An economic impact payment card is a prepaid debit card that the US Treasury used to distribute some stimulus payments under the March CARES Act and the December stimulus bill, instead of direct deposit or a paper check. The cards were provided to some eligible US residents the government didn’t have banking information for. 

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, head to the EIP card website to activate it and learn more about how to use it. 

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Why did I get my second stimulus payment on an EIP card instead of a paper check or a direct deposit?

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About 8 million people will get their stimulus payment on a prepaid debit card called an EIP card, which looks like this. 

Money Network/Screenshot by Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

For the first round of payments, those who were eligible received the first stimulus payment by EIP card instead of by 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, and the Treasury did not return our request for more information. 

For the second round of payments that started going out in late December, the IRS said it sent either a paper check or a debit card in the mail if it didn’t have banking information on hand. The IRS said some people who received a paper check last time could receive a debit card this time, and some people who received a debit card last time could receive a paper check, but did not say why.

Read more: How soon could a third stimulus check arrive?

Could my third check arrive on an EIP card?

Possibly. We won’t know anything definite until Congress passes a final stimulus bill and Biden signs it into law. But it’s likely that the IRS would follow a similar process as it did for the first two checks, and would use EIP cards as a way to get money into the hands of people even if it doesn’t have their banking information on file. 

One new wrinkle this time around: If Congress follows the timeline it has laid out to pass a new bill, the third round of checks could get sent out during tax season. It’s likely that Congress would use whichever tax return it has on file most recently, which could be your 2019 or 2020 return, to determine your payment. To increase your chances of your third check arriving through direct deposit, we recommend filing your taxes as soon as possible, and setting up direct deposit with the IRS.

How much stimulus money could be loaded onto my EIP card? 

Getting your stimulus payment via an EIP card wouldn’t change anything about the amount you’d get — it’s just a different format of the same payment.

The amount of money you’d be allotted in a potential third stimulus check will likely depend 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. In the latest proposal, the maximum amount any single tax filer could get is $1,400. However, the final amount you’re eligible for could be determined by the outcome of an effort to make the third check more “targeted,” which could bring far more money to your familyor far less

You can also find out who counts as a dependent on your taxes, how old a dependent has to be to get a separate stimulus payment and the stimulus check situation for older adults, people in the SSDI programUS citizens abroad and people living in US territories.

What happens if I was owed an EIP card for my second check, but it never arrived? 

If your second stimulus check (in any form) never arrived, you’ll have to claim it as a Recovery Rebate Credit when you file your 2020 tax return, now through the April 15 deadline. You’ll have to file your taxes to claim any missing stimulus money, even if you’re part of the group of nonfilers who typically does not have to do so. In some cases — like if you received a confirmation letter from the IRS that it sent your money, but your EIP card never arrived — you may have to report the missing funds or any errors to the IRS

How would my EIP card for a third payment be delivered?

If you’re eligible for a third stimulus check (assuming one is approved) and get that payment via EIP card, it’s likely that it would arrive the same way the first two did. For the first two rounds of checks, the IRS said your EIP card would arrive at the address listed on your last tax return in a white envelope marked with the US Department of the Treasury seal. The card will have the Visa name on the front and the issuing bank, MetaBank, N.A., on the back. Some literature will identify the card as the economic impact payment.

Because the envelope containing the first EIP card wasn’t clearly marked, some people reportedly threw the letter away without opening it during the first round of stimulus payments (if you think this happened to you, we’ve got tips on how to get your payment below). 

Note, if you moved, you’ll need to inform the IRS and USPS of your new address.

Could I get my third stimulus check through direct deposit instead?

If the IRS has your bank account information on hand, it was likely you’d get the payment by direct deposit instead of an EIP card. Since the first stimulus checks were sent, there has been greater effort to help people who don’t have bank accounts get one for this purpose. The best thing you can do right now to increase your chances of a potential third check arriving by direct deposit is to file your 2020 taxes and sign up for direct deposit with the IRS as soon as possible. 

Would the IRS notify me that an EIP card is coming? 

With the first two stimulus payments, the IRS sent a letter about your money to your last known address within 15 days after the payment was made. This notice 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. It would likely do the same for the potential third round of payments. 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 happens if my EIP card gets lost or destroyed?

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 would be qualified for a third stimulus check and when a third check could get sent out.

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