Nearly 4 million American households are receiving stimulus checks, formally called economic impact payments, via prepaid debit card.
But recipients beware: These EIP cards carry fees for various routine transactions, including using out-of-network ATMs and withdrawing cash via bank teller.
Caroline Newell learned this the hard way when she unintentionally paid a fee while withdrawing cash from an in-network ATM. Newell, a certified public accountant, accidentally pressed the ATM’s “check balance” button and saw her account value decline by 25 cents, the related fee for making an ATM balance inquiry. “I go, ‘Aren’t you just cute,'” Newell says after she noticed her mistake.
While a 25 cent fee won’t bankrupt her, she knows that small fees add up and that others will make the same mistake. “There’s going to be a lot of confused people,” says Newell, who lives in Shreveport, Louisiana.
If you’re interested in ensuring that your stimulus check isn’t eaten up by fees, it’s wise to know what fees the EIP card charges and how to avoid them. Here’s what to know about EIP card fees, including answers to:
- What’s an EIP card?
- What fees does the EIP card charge?
- How can I avoid EIP card fees?
What’s an EIP Card?
EIP cards are Visa-branded prepaid cards that contain your stimulus payment. If you qualified for an economic impact payment but haven’t received one via check or direct deposit, you may have yours preloaded on an EIP card, which is then mailed to you.
These cards come in a plain envelope from Money Network Cardholder Services.
What Fees Does the EIP Card Charge?
EIP cards charge a range of card fees for transactions, including out-of-network ATM withdrawals and lost card replacements. Here’s a list of EIP card fees:
|Out-of-network ATM withdrawal||$2 after the first withdrawal|
|International ATM withdrawal||$3|
|Bank teller cash withdrawal (domestic and international)||$5 after the first withdrawal|
|ATM balance inquiry (domestic and international)||25 cents|
|Lost or stolen card||$7.50 after the first reissue|
The good news for consumers is that these fees are avoidable, says Simon Zhen, senior research analyst at MyBankTracker.com. Many of them are waived for the first transaction, and the others are relatively gentle for a prepaid card. “It is entirely possible to get all of your money without paying a single cent,” Zhen says.
That said, it does take planning and a degree of financial literacy to understand and dodge the fees.
How Can I Avoid EIP Card Fees?
The most efficient way to avoid paying fees on your stimulus check card is to get your cash into your own bank account in as few transactions as possible. The goal is to withdraw your money at once, then cut up the card, Zhen says.
Avoid withdrawal fees. To dodge cash withdrawal fees, be savvy about the method you use to take out money. Cash-withdrawal strategies include:
- Using an in-network ATM to withdraw cash.
- Using the cash-back feature at the cash register.
- Requesting a Money Network check and cashing it.
- Transferring money from your card to your personal bank account.
The hurdle is that there are ATM withdrawal limits and other maximums that may make it difficult to withdraw your money all at once. Here are the transaction limits to know:
|ATM withdrawal||$1,000 per transaction and per day|
|Point-of-sale transaction||$2,500 per transaction and per day|
|Money Network check||$9,999 per check and per day|
|Teller over-the-counter withdrawal||$2,500 per transaction and per day|
|Transfer to domestic bank||$2,500 per transaction and per day, $5,000 per month|
For individuals who receive the maximum $1,200 stimulus check payment or married couples who receive the maximum $2,400, plus that extra $500 for qualifying children, it may take several ATM transactions or perhaps a couple of transfers (if you have a lot of children) to deplete your prepaid card.
Since direct transfers, checks and over-the-counter withdrawals (which have the first fee waived) have higher limits, they’ll get your cash into your hands or bank account quickest, which maximizes your chances of avoiding a fee. “The easiest one is to just transfer the money to your own bank account if you have one,” Zhen says.
You could also make a large purchase at a store with the debit card to deplete the card at once. Or you may request a check and pay a large bill such as, say, your rent or mortgage in one fell swoop. Zhen notes, however, that requesting and receiving a check is somewhat logistically complicated.
Balance inquiry fees. While checking your balance at the ATM will cost you 25 cents, account inquiries via the Money Network mobile app, website or phone call have no cost. If you can avoid even using the ATM and instead get the money into your account through a direct transfer, you’ll avoid accidentally pressing the button the way Newell did.
Card replacement fees. The easiest way to avoid replacement and priority shipping fees is to keep tabs on your card.
The good news is that if you accidentally toss out your card, thinking it’s junk mail, or lose your first one, the initial replacement is free. After that, however, you’re on the hook for $7.50.
Again, withdrawing or spending down the money as soon as possible will negate the need to use the card and avoid the fee.
If you’re dealing with your bank, keep an eye on the fees your own institution may charge.