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You could get an EIP card for your stimulus payment instead of direct deposit or check. Here's why

A third stimulus check could go out at the end of this month, but your money might not arrive by direct deposit or paper check. Here's everything you need to know about EIP debit cards and stimulus payments.

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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

The $1.9 trillion stimulus package continues to work its way through Congress, after getting approval from the House of Representatives late Friday evening. The bill includes a third stimulus check for up to $1,400 per eligible person. However, the way your money arrives will depend on what you do now. For example, with the first two paymentsmillions of people didn't receive their money by direct deposit or a mailed paper check -- instead, they received an Economic Impact Payment debit card. This form of payment will likely be used for the third payment, too, assuming the bill becomes law -- but you take certain steps now to help ensure you'll get a check by direct deposit instead. 

There are a couple of reasons why the IRS sent out EIP cards: They needed to get a payment to those who didn't have their banking information on file and they wanted to speed up payment delivery. Once a third payment is finalized, the IRS will once again try to send out the money as quickly as possible so that payments start arriving as early as the end of March -- here's how you could potentially get your third check faster.

Keep reading for more information about getting stimulus checks in the form of an EIP card and how to use it if one arrives in your mailbox. Also, we'll tell you how to provide the IRS with your banking information to help prevent you from getting an EIP card. Additionally, here's how to claim your missing stimulus money on your 2020 taxes, what you need to know about stimulus checks and SSI and SSDI and how your taxes could complicate a third stimulus payment

What is an EIP card, and what does it have to do with getting 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, as an alternative to distributing the money by 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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My second stimulus payment arrived on an EIP card instead of by paper check or in my bank account. Why?

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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 didn't respond to 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?

Will I get my third stimulus payment on an EIP card? 

Possibly. We won't know anything definite until Congress passes a final stimulus bill and President Biden signs it into law. But it's likely that the IRS would follow a similar process to what 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, which would come with its own set of rules and pitfalls. 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

If my third stimulus payment is on an EIP card, how would it 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 that if you moved you'll need to inform the IRS and USPS of your new address.

Can I do anything to make sure my third stimulus check arrives via direct deposit instead of on an EIP card?

If the IRS has your bank account information on hand, it was likely you'd get the payment by direct deposit instead of on 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. 

How much stimulus money can be loaded onto an EIP card at a time? 

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

The amount of money you'd be allotted in a potential third stimulus check would 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 family -- or 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.

I was supposed to get an EIP card for my second stimulus check, but it never came. What should I do?

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 don't 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

Will the IRS let me know that my EIP card is en route to my house?

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. The IRS will likely do the same for the 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 I lose my EIP card or it gets 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.