Don’t Toss That Junk Mail — It Might be Your Stimulus Payment

Four million Americans are receiving their Economic Impact Payment in the form of a prepaid debit card — and many are mistaking it for junk mail.

Mail sticking out of mail slot in door.

Last week, the U.S. Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) began sending out Economic Impact Payments (EIP) as prepaid debit cards. The cards arrive in plain white envelopes that are strikingly similar to junk mail from credit card companies and scam mail. There’s no way to know that the card is from the federal government unless the recipient knows to expect it.

Reports are already pouring in from all over the country of people mistakenly tossing their EIP cards along with their junk mail. By the time they realize they’ve thrown out their long-awaited stimulus payment, it’s too late.

Here’s how to spot your EIP card, activate it and use it, in three easy steps:

Step 1: Spot your card in the mail

If you’re eligible for a stimulus payment and you haven’t yet received it via direct deposit or paper check, be on the lookout for your EIP card in the mail. The prepaid debit card will arrive in a white envelope with a return address from “Money Network Cardholder Services” of MetaBank in Omaha, Nebraska. There is no other marking on the envelope to indicate it’s been sent from the federal government.

If you think you may have mistakenly tossed your EIP card, don’t panic. You can still receive your payment by calling the toll-free customer service line at 800-240-8100 (TTY: 800-241-9100) to ask for a replacement. You can also check out the EIP website for additional information and assistance.

Step 2: Activate your card

Your EIP card will be accompanied by a letter with instructions for activating it. If the card has more than one name on it, only the primary cardholder — listed first on the card — may activate it.

Dial 800-240-8100 (TTY: 800-241-9100) and be prepared to share your name, address and Social Security number. You’ll also be asked to create a four-digit PIN, which you’ll use for all ATM transactions, automated assistance and to hear your balance. For security purposes, it’s best not to use personal information, such as your birth year or home address, as your PIN.

Watch out for scammers! Pay close attention when dialing the number to activate your card. Scammers have set up bogus EIP card call centers and are using numbers that are similar to the official one shared by the IRS.

Once your card is activated, you can create a username and password to use your card online at the Money Network site. You can also check out your balance information and transaction history at EIPCard.com or by calling the toll-free number listed above.

Step 3: Use your card

You can use your EIP card to make purchases anywhere Visa debit cards are accepted.

If you’d rather have your stimulus money in cash, you can get cash back with PIN debit purchases where available, or by withdrawing cash from an ATM that carries the Allpoint brand.

It won’t cost you money to use your card, except for a select few transactions. For example, if you make a balance inquiry at an ATM, you’ll need to pay $0.25. Also, you can make one free withdrawal from an out-of-network ATM, but you’ll be charged $2 for every withdrawal afterward. To find a surcharge-free ATM near you, check out EIPCard.com.

Keep your card safe; if you lose it, you’ll have to pay $7.50 to replace it. It’s also a good idea to keep track of your balance so you don’t end up at the register with a card that’s declined because of an insufficient balance.

Your Turn: How are you using your stimulus money? Tell us about it in the comments.

Should I Take the Zero-Percent Financing Offered by the Dealer?

Mercedes Benz Car Show Room Floor.

Q: I’m in the market for a new set of wheels, and I’ve seen some dealers advertising zero-percent financing. Should I take this offer?

A: An auto loan without any interest sounds like a dream; however, there are many considerations before deciding to take out a zero-percent financing loan. Let’s take a closer look at zero-percent financing so you can make an informed, responsible decision about your auto loan.

What is zero-percent financing?

An auto loan offer of zero-percent financing means the dealer financer is offering to lend the buyer money without charging any interest over the life of the loan.

With traditional loans, the lender is willing to extend money to the buyer because the lender will reap the benefits of the interest payments over the life of the loan. A zero-percent car loan, though, offers no reward for the lender. In fact, the loan is actually being offered by the auto manufacturer. The automaker stands to benefit from the loan as much as it would from an upfront cash payment for one of its cars. The only difference is that the money is earned over a longer time span. Automakers may offer zero-percent financing on slower-selling models or to help clear out stale inventory to make room for newer models.

Can anyone qualify for zero-percent financing? 

Zero-percent financing may be heavily advertised, but it can be difficult to qualify for one of these loans. They are typically only offered to buyers who have excellent credit, including a credit score above 700 and a long credit history. These buyers are more likely to make every payment on time and they may even pay off the loan early, making it low risk and profitable for the automaker.

It’s also important to note that not everyone can afford to take out a zero-percent financing loan. Since the lenders are only profiting from the actual sale on these loans, they will rarely agree to bargain down the price, nor do they offer any other incentives, such as cash-back rebates.

When is zero-percent financing a good idea?

For buyers who qualify, a zero-percent financing loan may be a way to save on steep interest payments throughout the life of an auto loan. A buyer can easily save several thousands of dollars in interest payments over the life of a zero-financing loan.

It is crucial that qualifying buyers crunch the numbers to be sure they can easily afford the monthly payments on a zero-interest loan. If all the numbers add up and the buyer’s credit makes the cut, a zero-interest loan can be a great way to save money on a new set of wheels.

When is zero-percent financing a bad idea

Zero-percent financing may not be in the best interest of buyers who can’t actually afford the loan. As mentioned, lenders generally will not bring down the price on a car with a zero-percent financing offer. Buyers may be blinded by the temptation of not paying any interest and therefore consider a vehicle that has a higher monthly price tag than they originally planned.

Another point to consider before committing to a zero-down financing loan is the term of the loan. Some of these loans feature longer terms than traditional auto loans, as much as six years. Six years is a long time to be paying for a car. The buyer’s auto needs may change before then and they won’t own the car for a year longer than they would have through a traditional loan. On the flip side, lots of zero-percent financing loans are only four years long, which can significantly increase the monthly payment amount.

Even if the loan terms do meet the buyer’s needs, it still may be worthwhile to skip the zero-percent financing and take out a traditional loan so the buyer will not miss out on cash-back rebates. These are typically not available on auto loans with special financing offers, and can mean missing out on robust incentives.

Let’s take a look at the purchase of a single car and run it through both kinds of loans.

A car is selling for $20,000 with the offer of a zero-percent financing loan that needs to be paid off in four years. Monthly payments on this loan will amount to $416.

Alternatively, the buyer can consider a traditional loan for the same car. An auto loan furnished by a credit union at the average national rate according to data extracted by the NCUA would give the loan an annual percentage rate (APR) of 3.45 percent. Over five years, this would amount to a monthly payment of $363.

In addition, with a traditional loan, the buyer can take advantage of manufacturer rebates. If this car would have an offer of a $2,500 cash-back rebate, its price would drop to $17,500. Through a loan with an APR of 3.45 percent, the monthly payments would only be $318. The total amount paid on the car would also be less than the amount paid through the no-interest loan, at $19,080.

If the buyer chose to take out a loan through a bank, with auto loan APRs averaging at 5.10 percent, the monthly payments (without the manufacturer’s rebate) would be $378. If the manufacturer offered a rebate, that amount would fall to $331 a month.

Evidently, when there is a shorter loan term involved, it is not always worthwhile to take out a zero-percent financing auto loan.

If the offer does not feature a shorter loan term, the difference between scenarios wouldn’t be as dramatic. A five-year loan on $20,000 with zero interest would cost the buyer $333 each month, only $15 more than the traditional loan through a credit union after the rebate; however, a five-year loan term may not be an option on a no-interest loan. Also, when you take out a loan through , you’ll enjoy personalized service and zero pressure to make a decision.

It’s best to run your own numbers through a free auto loan calculator to see what your actual monthly payment would be before taking on a loan. It’s the best way to determine if you can afford the payments without overextending your budget.

If you’re ready to get started on your auto loan, stop by today to get started. We’ll have you seated behind your new set of wheels in no time! Below you will find some links to our page for our Auto Loans.

Auto Loans Vehicle Search

Your Turn: Have you chosen to forego a zero-percent financing option? Tell us about it in the comments.

Ways to Celebrate Memorial Day during the COVID-19 Lock Down

Most years, Memorial Day is the unofficial kickoff to summer. Americans salute and honor the memory of our military heroes with grand parades, lively family picnics and crowded barbecues.

Man Holding American Flag in left hand, while draped in American flag.

But, this year, everything is different. Even as the country moves forward with the reopening process, people continue to practice caution and avoid unnecessary contact with others. Some states and counties are still under lock down, and many state and local governments continue to mandate mask-wearing and social distancing, which severely limits in-person socializing. Also, many annual Memorial Day events have been canceled around the country.

Don’t let any of that put a damper on your Memorial Day plans, though. While you may not be able to celebrate the way you usually do, you can still commemorate the day dedicated to our fallen military heroes without compromising your health and safety.

Here are some ideas to get you started.

Create your own parade 

The town’s yearly Memorial Day parade may have been canceled, but you can get together with your neighbors and salute our heroes, COVID-19 style. Arrange a car parade for the neighborhood and have everyone decorate their vehicles with patriotic signs and banners in honor of the day.

Watch the National Memorial Day Concert from home 

You don’t have to head out to Washington, D.C. this year to watch the National Memorial Day Concert. PBS will be broadcasting the annual concert on Sunday, May 24, at 8 p.m. As always, the concert will feature performances and tributes filmed from around the country to honor our servicepeople who gave their all.

Get outdoors

Celebrate the start of summer in the glorious outdoors. Break out the bike, take a fishing trip, lace up your hiking boots or enjoy a nature walk with your family.

Visit George Washington’s Virginia estate 

Why not treat the entire family to a fascinating history lesson this Memorial Day? Mount Vernon might currently be closed to the public, but you can now enjoy a virtual 360-degree tour of the estate on its website.

Run in a virtual race

Live races are still prohibited in much of the country, but you can compete in a virtual race this Memorial Day. Check out Racehawk.com for a list of virtual races you can join this Memorial Day weekend.

Pay a virtual visit to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial

The memorial, based in Arlington, Va., will be hosting its annual Memorial Day Ceremony via webcast this year. The event will run from 1-2 p.m. Eastern time on Monday, May 25, and will honor those who served in the U.S. armed forces during the Vietnam War.

 Your Turn: How are you celebrating Memorial Day this year? Tell us about it in the comments.

Stay Fit with Household Chores During the Corona Virus Lock-down

Gyms are shuttered and you may be stuck in the house all day without much to do. In some cities, outdoor exercise is off the table, too, as hiking trails are roped off and parks are closed. With all of your socializing happening on Zoom, there’s no pressing reason to get out of your PJs or sweats either. All of these factors create the perfect recipe for letting your fitness commitments slide and slowly turning into a couch potato.

Woman with glasses wearing blue rubber gloves cleaning windows.

Eventually, though, life will return to normal and you’ll need to fit into real clothing again. And when that happens, you want to be ready. Lucky for you, you don’t need the gym or a jog around the block to keep fit. All you need is a list of household chores to tackle.  Let’s whip your muscles — and your house — into shape!

Chore # 1: Vacuum your rugs

Calories burned per hour: 190

It’s time to break out the vacuum; your abdominal muscles are waiting! The forward and backward motion of vacuuming is a fantastic workout for your abs.

To get more for your muscles: 

As you vacuum, flex your muscles one at a time, beginning at your pelvis and moving into your upper abs.
Do leg lunges every few minutes as you push the vacuum back and forth across your floors.

Chore #2: Mop your floors

Calories burned per hour: 195

Make those floors sparkle — and give your abs and arms a great workout!

Tip: Before you start, clear your floors from clutter and dirt so you’ll be able to clean as many surfaces as possible in succession, quickening your heart rate.

To get more for your muscles:

Flex your abs and squat instead of bending if you need to get to a hard-to-reach space.
Switch arms as you sweep or mop so you’re reaching and pulling back with your right and left sides evenly.
When you hit a hard spot, get down on your hands and knees to scrub. This will help tone your shoulders and upper arms.

Chore # 3: Wash your windows 

Calories burned per hour: 180

Wipe that grime off your windows while you tone your upper and lower arm muscles.

Get more for your muscles: 

Use your left and right hands equally.
Wipe in a circular motion for maximum workout.
Reach up as high as you can to work your abs and lower back muscles, too.

Chore # 4: Wash your dishes 

Calories burned per hour: 120 

All that scrubbing and rinsing under sudsy water provides a great workout for your arm muscles.

Get more for your muscles:

For really tough stains, use vigorous scrubbing in place of soaking. This will boost your calorie-torching to 160 an hour.
While waiting for your dishes to air-dry, do some squats on your kitchen floor.

Your Turn: How do you turn housekeeping into a fitness workout? Share your tips with us in the comments.

Unemployment Level Hits Record High

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) report for April showed shattered records and forced lawmakers to face some hard questions.

According to the report, the unemployment rate has skyrocketed to 14.7 percent and touched almost every sector of the labor market. Lawmakers must now decide if they should continue pumping the economy with trillions of dollars in stimulus money or hope that the gradual reopening of states across the country will help jump-start an economic recovery.

Door of Business  with two yellow Post-It notes saying Sorry we are closed and Covid-19

The numbers are truly record-breaking, with the 20.5 million jobs lost in April alone easily surpassing the 8.7 million of the last recession, when unemployment peaked at 10 percent in October 2009. The acute decline is the steepest and most sudden ever seen since the government began tracking employment levels in 1939. April’s losses follow considerable job cuts in March, when employers slashed 870,000 jobs. These numbers are even more disheartening when held up against the state of the economy before the pandemic reached American shores: February’s unemployment rate was just 3.5 percent, the lowest it’s been anytime during the last half-century.

This setback is particularly discouraging for those who weathered the Great Recession of 2008. In the decade following the recession, U.S. employers added 22.8 million jobs to the economy. Now, it appears as if close to 10 years of job growth was wiped out in just two months.

By the government’s definition, the “unemployed,” generally includes individuals who are actively seeking work and does not reflect the millions of Americans who have had their hours cut along with losing their paychecks.

While the numbers are bleak, some comfort can be taken in knowing this was a necessary sacrifice for the greater good. When stay-at-home orders were issued across the nation, beginning in late March, thousands of businesses in multiple sectors were forced to shut their doors. Many of them were forced to lay off workers as well. Experts estimate that hundreds of thousands of lives may have been saved by the lockdowns.

Unfortunately, though, the job losses were a direct consequence of these closures. The job report shows a loss of 7.7 million jobs in the leisure and hospitality sector, another 2.1 million losses in retail and 1.2 million vanished jobs among health care workers employed in outpatient services like physicians’ and dentists’ offices. Food and beverage stores, considered essential during the lockdowns, have lost a collective 42,000 jobs.

There is some good news despite the doom and gloom: A full 18 million Americans counted by the BLS as “unemployed,” are on “temporary layoff” and expect to be rehired within the next six months.

On the flip side, though, the count did not include jobless workers who were not actively seeking work in April. These individuals are categorized as having dropped out of the workforce instead of being part of the unemployed.

Financial experts are hopeful that many people will find work again as the economy gradually opens up, but they caution that it will likely take years before the labor market makes a full recovery. This is especially true for the leisure and recreation sector, as many Americans likely won’t be comfortable sitting in a packed restaurant or a crowded theater until a vaccine or approved drug is available for COVID-19.

For now, Americans should support local businesses as much as they are realistically able and have a mindset of knowing better days are ahead.

Your Turn: How can you help your local small businesses? Share your ideas with us in the comments.

Celebrating Milestones Amid the Coronavirus Pandemic

As the ongoing coronavirus pandemic continues to disrupt life and cancel plans across the world, people are finding creative ways to celebrate. From drive-by weddings to birthday car parades to virtual graduation ceremonies, there are so many ways you can celebrate while still maintaining proper social distancing.

Let’s take a look at some of the ways you can commemorate life’s happier moments during the coronavirus pandemic. Party on!

Car parades

It’s like a drive-through safari, only instead of clusters of animals the guest of honor is the main attraction.

In what’s becoming increasingly popular around the country, Americans with reason to celebrate are inviting friends and family over to join in celebrations — from their cars. The hero of the hour stands outside their home and waves as guests drive by to offer their warm wishes and gifts. Sometimes, the inviter will offer pre-wrapped favors or packaged party treats to the parade of friends driving by.

Car parades have been happening to commemorate weddings, birthdays, graduations, baby showers and more. Often, the parades are a complete surprise and are organized by well-meaning family and friends who want to extend well-wishes and be part of the happy occasion.

In a fun twist, some people are theming their parades and having participants decorate their vehicles to match the theme. The hosts will sometimes decorate their own car and join the parade, and other times, they’ll deck out their home and lawn while having guests drive by in their decorated cars to wave and offer their good wishes. It can be a Star Wars-themed parade for the die-hard fan, a football-themed drive-by party for the aspiring athlete or a princess theme for the little girl who is passionate about pink.

Taking it outside

Some celebrations, especially those surrounding older people or the otherwise vulnerable, are taking place outdoors. Family members gather outside the home of their loved one for singing, playing instruments, holding up signs and shouting “I love you!” or “Happy birthday!” as the quarantined celebrity watches from the safety of their home. Some merry-makers will also use sidewalk chalk to scrawl their good wishes on the pavement near the VIP’s home.

For Kathleen Bryne of Syracuse, NY, the outpouring of love at her outdoor celebration was tangible, even from a distance. The nonagenarian, mother of seven, grandmother of 22 and great-grandmother of 29, celebrated her 95th birthday in March. When the coronavirus outbreak disrupted the family’s plans of a giant celebration, they moved on to Plan B. Cousins and siblings gathered on Kathleen’s front lawn to sing “Happy Birthday” to the matriarch of the family and to spell out “Happy Birthday” in balloons.  The birthday girl was deeply touched.

A couple in NY took it a step further and got married outside — with the officiant conducting the ceremony from a nearby apartment, four stories above street level.

Another couple in Israel invited their neighbors to come out and join their wedding celebration — from the safety of their own balconies.

Elissa Labbie-Snyder turned her son’s birthday into a fun outdoor game. She asked friends to leave birthday gifts, messages, balloons and treats for her son around the neighborhood. When they were done, she took her son, Alex, out on a three-hour birthday scavenger hunt to find the hidden treats.

Zooming in

The videoconferencing platform that has become a household word since the it is now host to thousands of business meetings, classes, and long-distance visits each day. But some people are turning to the app to host their virtual celebrations as well.

For graduating students of the Organizational Studies program at the University of Michigan, their anticipated in-person graduation turned into a Zoom videoconference event thanks to the ongoing lockdown. The virtual ceremony featured presentations and awards you’d expect to see at a college graduation, including greetings from the program’s director and keynote addresses from selected students.

To turn a Zoom event into a shared experience, Swasti Sarna, insights manager at Pinterest, suggests that all participants decorate the space being used to host the party so it feels more festive. She also recommends creating a program so the party is more than just a screen full of faces trying to keep up with an animated conversation. The program can include virtual games everyone can play together, like Psych or Jackbox Games, and a shared menu of homemade or takeout food that everyone can enjoy at the same time.

Some Zoom party hosts have upped the ante by mailing out a package ahead of the party with instructions to open them at the event. The party boxes can include a cupcake, party favors and/or a DIY craft kit for all attendees to create together.

Another great idea is for guests to send gifts ahead of the event for the host to open while everyone watches.

The rules of the game may have changed, but the milestones that make life go on can’t be stopped by a global pandemic. Here’s to continued celebrations of all of life’s most precious moments.

Your Turn: Have you celebrated a milestone event during the coronavirus lockdown? Tell us about it in the comments.

Where is My Stimulus Check?

Q: Everyone I talk to seems to have already gotten their stimulus money, but I’m still waiting for mine to arrive. Where is my stimulus check?

Man Looking at Cell Phone Standing on City Street.

A: More than half of eligible Americans have already received their Economic Impact Payment, but tens of millions more are still waiting. We’ll let you in on when you can expect yours, how to help it come quicker and why you may not even be receiving a stimulus payment.

The schedule for issuing payments

The IRS is trying to get the stimulus payments out to Americans as quickly as possible, but with approximately 150 million checks that need to be issued, it will take some time.

First, the IRS is working on getting the funds to Americans via direct deposit. Most of the payments being issued to people whose account details are known by the IRS have already been distributed and the rest is scheduled to be deposited as the information is obtained.

Next, the IRS will send payments for individuals currently receiving federal benefits, such as Social Security checks, retirement or disability benefits, Railroad Retirement benefits, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits. The stimulus payments will be issued the same way these individuals receive their regular federal benefits, whether by direct deposit, Direct Express or paper check. The Treasury has promised that all Social Security and Railroad Retirement beneficiaries will receive their benefits by early May. SSI and VA beneficiaries should get their payments by mid-May.

On April 24, the IRS began issuing paper checks to Americans who have not provided their banking details. Low-income Americans are prioritized, and individuals earning an adjusted gross income (AGI) of $10,000 or less should have already received their checks. The IRS will then send out approximately 5 million paper checks each week, scheduling the mailings according to incomes in increasing $10,000 increments. For example, checks for individuals with an AGI that falls between $20,000 and $30,000 were mailed out on May 1. On May 8, the checks for people with incomes between $30,000 and $40,000 will be mailed out. This schedule will continue through Sept. 4.

How can I make my stimulus money get here quicker?

As mentioned, funds being distributed via direct deposit are issued first. The IRS will use your most recently filed taxes to determine where to send your stimulus money and the amount you are eligible to receive. If your most recently filed returns have not yet been processed, or you’ve received your refund by paper check, the government does not have your checking account information, so your payment may be delayed.

You can update this information on the recently updated track your payment portal on the IRS website. You will need your Social Security number, the gross income of your most recent tax returns, your bank or credit union’s routing number (Destinations Credit Union‘s routing number is 252076442) and your checking account information. Once you’ve shared your account information, your stimulus payment should be scheduled for deposit within the week.

If the IRS already has your account information and you still have not received the stimulus money, or you would prefer to receive your payment by paper check, you can track your payment on the same link. The site is updated once a day.

What if my information has changed since I filed my last tax return? 

If the checking account used for your most recently filed taxes has since been closed, the payment will bounce back to the IRS, which will then send a paper check to the home address it has on file from your tax returns.

To update a checking account, use the IRS payment portal to enter your current information.

If you’ve moved since filing taxes, you can choose to share your checking account information with the IRS, or to use another method which may include informing the U.S. Postal Service of a change of address.

What if I don’t file taxes?

If you are not required to file taxes and you are eligible for an Economic Impact Payment, you can still receive your check. Just enter your information here.

Why you may not qualify for a check 

The CARES Act does not promise payments for every American. Dependents older than 16, individuals who do not have a Social Security number and those with an AGI above $99,000, will not be getting a stimulus payment. The threshold is higher for individuals filing as a head of household, at $136,500, and up to $198,000 for joint filers.

Watch out for stimulus scams

While the IRS urges people to update their information on the payment portal, it’s important to note that they are not reaching out to individuals. If you receive a phone call, social media post, email or text message asking for your banking information, it is likely a scam. There is also no application fee or processing fee for the Economic Impact Payments. If you’re asked to pay one, it’s also a scam.

Your Turn: How are you spending your stimulus payment? Tell us about it in the comments.