Stimulus Payment Debit Card: Can the Government Track Purchases Made on EIP Card?

On Monday, the Treasury Department announced plans to issue stimulus payments on prepaid debit cards known as EIP Cards, causing some concerns over whether they would be able to see how the money was used. To be clear, the government cannot track the money on an EIP Card once it is issued, as it is illegal under federal law. Still, many Americans are wondering why they have to are suddenly being asked to learn how this new system of disbursement works.

The IRS is still scrambling to issue the stimulus check most Americans are guaranteed under the CARES Act, which was passed back in March. On Monday, they announced a new plan for some of the funds — they will be delivered on a prepaid debit card through Visa and MetaBank. About 4 million Americans will get their money this way, the IRS says, adding that it should speed the process up. Still, Americans were left with lots of questions about this sudden new process.

"Treasury and the IRS have been working with unprecedented speed to issue Economic Impact Payments to American families," read a statement from Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin on Monday. "Prepaid debit cards are secure, easy to use, and allow us to deliver Americans their money quickly. Recipients can immediately activate and use the cards safely."

Recipients can use their EIP Card to make purchases wherever Visa is accepted, without the IRS tracking their purchases in any way. However, they can also use the card to withdraw cash, issue a check or even transfer the funds into their bank account if they want to be sure.

EIP Cards are being sent to Americans who did not use the Get My Payment app to give their banking information to the IRS in the last month or so, and whose tax returns were processed at an IRS center in either Austin, Texas or Andover, Massachusetts. The Treasury has not provided a way for taxpayers to find out where their taxes were processed, though it did list generally which states go to which IRS centers.

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Unlike Visa gift cards and other prepaid debit card products, the EIP Card comes with no built-in fees. However, taxpayers will be charged a fee if they lose their card and request a replacement, or if they make more than one cash withdrawal over the counter a bank. They will also pay the standard fees for using an out-of-network ATM.

So far, the Treasury Department has issued $239 billion worth of stimulus checks to American taxpayers, with most checks out already. Lawmakers are working on plans to possibly release another stimulus check before the coronavirus pandemic is over.