The Stimulus Debit Card Scavenger Hunt

Of the 8 million Americans who received their second Covid-19 stimulus payment on a debit card, my 90-year-old mother should not have been one of them.

When Mom opened a letter with a debit card attached, she assumed it was junk mail and tossed it in the trash. Having second thoughts, she pulled it out of the garbage and, with her failing eyesight, concluded that it was about the stimulus payment. Since her first payment came by check, she thought the letter might be a scam.

I visited mom a few days later when she asked, “Did you get your stimulus money on a debit card?”

“I got both payments by check,” I replied. “Why?”

“Take a look at this letter and tell me if you think it’s for real.”

The letter said it was her Economic Impact Payment card from the U.S. Department of the Treasury. It had a blue and gold seal, smaller than a dime, with white words around the outside. The text was so tiny I couldn’t read it, and I have good eyesight. Could that indistinguishable circle be the Department of the Treasury Seal, or was it blurry and too small to read because the letter was a scam?

In the summary of terms and fees, I saw a $2.00 charge for all withdrawals except for the first one. Why would the government put money on a card that charged a fee to withdraw it?

“I don’t know, Mom. It could be a scam. I’ll have to do research when I get home.” Unfortunately, I forgot.

“Why would they send me a debit card?” Mom said. “I’m grateful for the money, but I can’t use a debit card to pay my bills. They’re automatically withdrawn from my bank account, my meals are included in my rent, and I only shop once a month when you take me to buy eggs, milk, and wine.”

She paused for a moment looking at the debit card. We both laughed when she announced, “I’ll probably be dead before I get to spend all the money on this card.”

A few days later, she called me from her independent living retirement community. “A lot of the residents here are getting the debit card and don’t know if it’s real or not. I’ve been telling them it’s a scam. Then one of my friends told me it was legit, and since I can’t see very well, she offered to activate my card for me. Of course, I had thrown it away again and had to dig it out of the trash.”

I headed over to Mom’s to reread the letter and figure out how to move the money to her personal account.

How to Access Your Stimulus Payment

Make Purchases In-Store, Online, or by Phone

This option was off the table. Mom wanted the money moved from the card into her bank account or handed to her in cash.

Transfer to a Personal Bank Account or Withdraw Cash at a Bank

I called her credit union. They didn’t have the ability to cash out or transfer money from the government card. Their only suggestion was to withdraw it from an ATM and deposit it manually into her account.

Get Cash at Surcharge-Free ATMs

I drove Mom to the free ATM at the credit union. When I rolled down the driver’s window to enter her card number and pin, the bitter Illinois winter wind blasted into the car. Burr!

When I tried to withdraw $600.00, the screen showed a $3.00 fee!  The fee is supposed to be $2.00, but not until the second withdraw. I accepted the extra charge, but the transaction didn’t go through. Trying $597.00 to account for the fee didn’t work either. I tried two more times, lowering the amount each time with no success while the wind froze my eyeballs and fingertips.

Thinking the ATM was broken or out of money, we headed inside to speak with a teller. “I’m sorry,” she said. “Apparently, the government cards don’t work with our machine.”

I tried two other ATMs without success. Finally, using my phone, I googled the website listed on the card. Ah Ha! I had to use an in-network ATM. I clicked on the ATM Locator tab and got a list that included the Target store, which was close by. It also refused to spit out money.

Shivering from the cold, we returned to Mom’s place, where I used her computer to research more options.

Transfer Stimulus Payment to a Bank Account

Transfer Funds Online at

I set up an account for Mom on the website, but I stopped cold when asked for her social security number. So far, every option I tried didn’t work. Should I trust them with her SSN?

“Let’s just call it a day,” Mom said. “We’re both tired. Take the card with you and try one of those other ATMs when it’s warmer outside.”

The weather turned from bitter to brutal as snow and ice blanketed the United States for the next five days. I called Mom and suggested that if she trusted the EIPcard website, I could use my computer to transfer the money. She agreed. I input her personal information, requested a $600.00 withdrawal, and clicked the button. The transaction failed.

I wasn’t frustrated as much as I was flabbergasted at the absurdity of giving a debit card to our oldest citizens who have health challenges and rarely leave their homes. Why not send their stimulus money by direct deposit, since that’s how they get their social security money.

It’s their children, the younger seniors in their 60s and 70s, with our own aches and pains, who must navigate this stimulus debit card scavenger hunt on our parent’s behalf.

Transfer Funds by Calling 800.240.8100

I called the 800 number believing I would talk to a real person, but that wasn’t an option. Following the robotic voice instructions to transfer money, I again plugged in Mom’s personal information, the transfer amount and pushed the button. There was no confirmation that the transaction went through, but it did show up on Mom’s EIPcard account, which was still open on my computer screen. Finally!

It’s Not Over Yet

The following day, I was focused on the breaking news about Texas’s deadly winter storm that left millions without power in harsh cold temperatures when Mom called and announced, “My money is frozen in Texas.”

The credit union’s online banking provider, which is located in Texas, lost power. After they got their generators up and running and restored online banking, the city implemented mandatory power blackouts every 30 minutes. When they could turn the generators back on, they couldn’t refuel them because the storm impacted transportation. It took three more days for the stimulus payment to make it into Mom’s account.

Both Mom’s friend and I have now received our third stimulus payment by direct deposit.  The big question is, will my mother be that lucky?  I certainly hope so.

I’ve got to go now. Mom is waiting with cash in hand. It’s time to buy eggs, milk, and wine!

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    Melody WilsonMarch 30th, 2021
  1. Love your story about the frustrations that our Senior citizens are put through by the governments inability to think rationally about the difficulties Seniors and those with disabilities have!

  2. penny perrinMarch 30th, 2021
  3. Another entertaining Gaye…love the stories. Seems like anything involving government is difficult. Lol

  4. Rich LeydenMarch 30th, 2021
  5. “My money is frozen in Texas!” That one made me laugh. Your Mom is a hoot. Also liked the “eggs, milk, and wine” – Priorities must be kept.

  6. Deborah PetersonMarch 30th, 2021
  7. Thank God she finally got it!!! Mine automatically shows up in my bank without me doing anything else.

  8. Karen KellyMarch 30th, 2021
  9. I am just speechless. Usually I chuckle through your pieces but today I am shaking my head. Blessings on you and your mom and all others who have received or will receive that form of a payment.

  10. MomMarch 30th, 2021
  11. A Stimulating Stimulus story. If this happens again, just give her your money and save yourself lots of grief. Forget the eggs and milk, she just needs wine.

  12. Jeanne SolingMarch 30th, 2021
  13. Oh my gosh Gaye. This is a horrendous story. You sure worked hard to get your mom’s stimulus money. It’s always a fear that someone is trying to scam older folks like us. It’s such a shame that you have to be so careful and not trust people. Sometimes I long for the good old days when we didn’t have locks on our doors and we never locked our cars. Wow, things have really changed since we were young. Well, I’m glad your mom finally got her money. You’re such a good daughter to be there for your mom when she needs help. Have a wonderful Easter!

  14. Barbara CredeMarch 30th, 2021
  15. Wow! A flurry of emotions flashed by as I read this. Someone had to think long and hard to make this so complicated. And that’s only if you have a computer. Many seniors I know do not own one.

  16. MattMarch 30th, 2021
  17. That’s hilarious and also remarkable. You need to market this one to “Money”, Wal Street Journal and Bloomberg. I’m sure they’d buy it!!

  18. Amanda J WithersMarch 30th, 2021
  19. What a mess Gaye, glad you finally got it figured out! Your mom’s grocery list is similar to mine, just add bananas and I’d be good to go. Hope the weather has thawed out in IL by now, it’s already Spring in southern Indiana!!

  20. Corey StohlquistMarch 30th, 2021
  21. Thanks for another Great story Gaye, its all something we can relate to. You are a MASTER Storyteller!

  22. Betty spurrierMarch 30th, 2021
  23. Great story,as usual! I lived thru this adventure with your mother as I live in the same retirement home and. It took a lot of work and research for you to solve it. You told it well.

  24. Margaret GehlbachApril 1st, 2021
  25. Love this and so very true for lots one of my friends is still waiting for hers they say she got it by check rand cashed it. She did not so tme will tell. Oh and no record d of it at her bank. Needless to say she has not gotten the latest one yet!!!

  26. PEGGY SCHUTTMay 18th, 2021
  27. I can relate, I call these frustrations ‘going down the rabbit hole again.’ I just love reading your stories, I see I missed a few and just caught up…I imagine you enjoy writing them as much as we do reading them.

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