This week, the federal government sent economic stimulus payments to about 80 million taxpayers via direct deposit.
The payments, totaling $1,200 for most adults and $500 for children, were a key provision of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
The initial wave of payments went to households who filed 2018 or 2019 tax returns and received a refund by direct deposit. However, according to the Tax Foundation, another 60 million are still owed money. This is where it gets trickier.
- If the IRS didn’t send you a tax refund via direct deposit in 2018 or 2019 but you filed a return for at least one of those years, the agency says you can check the status of your stimulus payment using its Get My Payment feature.
- If you were not required to file in either of those years — for instance, if your 2019 income did not exceed $12,200 ($24,400 for married couples) — there’s a separate page for non-filers to provide their direct deposit information.
If all of these digital means fail, the IRS will be sending paper checks in the mail, though they could take weeks or months to arrive. The main point of this exercise is to get money into Americans’ hands quickly to help compensate for the economic disruptions caused by COVID-19.
What if you don’t have a bank account?
Roughly 24 million U.S. households are considered underbanked by the FDIC, and another 8 million are completely unbanked. Many turn to prepaid cards as an alternative to the traditional banking system.
Good news: It’s possible to get your stimulus payment deposited onto a prepaid card.
Mastercard is one of the companies advocating for this. I spoke with Kathryn Cleary, the company’s senior vice president of U.S. business development, who explained that Mastercard’s general-purpose reloadable cards have routing and account numbers just like bank accounts. Cleary clarified that gift cards intended for temporary use do not qualify, but there are some prepaid cards that do qualify.
If prepaid cardholders received a 2018 or 2019 federal tax refund on their cards, they should be all set. If not, they can find their routing and account numbers by logging in to their prepaid card account online or calling the customer service number on the back of their card. Next, cardholders should enter the routing and account numbers into the IRS’ Get My Payment tool.
If you’re unbanked or underbanked and you want to take advantage of this but don’t already have a prepaid card, it’s not too late. According to Cleary, you can sign up online and get instant access to the routing and account numbers, and the physical card should land in your mailbox within a few days.
Check the fine print before signing up for a prepaid card. Many charge a variety of fees: monthly maintenance fees, purchase fees, ATM fees and more. If you can get a no-fee bank account, that’s probably a better option, although not everyone can (or wants to) qualify.
For the unbanked and underbanked, Cleary believes prepaid cards are cheaper (and more sanitary) than check-cashing services. It’s also important to note that all of Mastercard’s prepaid cards include FDIC insurance.
Another potential benefit: While the CARES Act only explicitly authorized the seizure of stimulus funds for overdue child support, some banks are garnishing these payments to offset past debts or overdraft fees, The New York Times reports. Some people would, therefore, rather not receive their stimulus funds through their bank.
One more tidbit about Mastercard, stimulus payments and prepaid cards: The card network is partnering with the City of Los Angeles to distribute payments ranging from $700 to $1,500. These are for low-income households impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The program has received very high demand, according to the Los Angeles Daily News.
My stimulus payment experience
I’m hoping to receive my stimulus payment in my bank account. So far, I haven’t had any luck. After visiting the IRS’ Get My Payment link and entering my Social Security number, birth date, street address and ZIP code as instructed, I got this error message:
Payment Status Not Available
According to information that we have on file, we cannot determine your eligibility for a payment at this time.
Other snags are being reported by people who filed their taxes using tax preparation software and those who either received the wrong payment amount or didn’t get $500 for each of their dependent children. The Washington Post notes that people are also getting locked out of the IRS website while trying to enter their direct deposit information.
Following several reader complaints, CNBC posed this scenario to an IRS spokesperson, who replied: “What happened is instead of having an error message or a message saying the system is very busy, it just says your information isn’t in here, that was the default. But that should be fixed now. Just be patient, check back later. If you filed last year’s or this year’s taxes we have your information.”
Okay, but I’m still not convinced. I’ve tried three days in a row, and all three days I’ve hit the same dead end. There’s also an important (and frustrating) distinction here because I paid my 2019 taxes with a bank account transfer, so the IRS should have my routing and account numbers. But they’re only looking at account info for refunds deposited digitally — not payments.
I suppose, like many of you, I’ll just need to be patient and keep trying. If I’m unable to enter my bank account information, I’ll have to wait for a paper check to arrive, and that could be a while.
Have a question about credit cards? E-mail me at [email protected], and I’d be happy to help.
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