American expats who live in the Netherlands are unable to cash the latest round of U.S. CARES Act stimulus checks at any Dutch bank, as the last bank willing to cash such checks, ING, has stopped doing so.
ING, one of the Netherlands' largest banks, warned last year that it would stop accepting international checks at the end of 2020, citing fraud risks and the fact that the business of accepting and processing paper checks is so much more expensive than other payment methods, sources in the Netherlands and Dutch media report.
Meanwhile, social media reports out of Australia say such major institutions there as Westpac Bank have announced plans to discontinue accepting overseas checks there as soon as the end of April. This could not immediately be confirmed by the American Expat Financial News Journal. However, a source not in Australia said they thought an exception might be made for the last installment of coronavirus stimulus checks, which President Biden has indicated could be worth US$1,400 for individuals making less than US$75,000.
In the Netherlands, two Dutch Parliamentarians – Helma Lodders and Ronald Edwin van der Linde, both from the VVD party – included the matter in at the top of a list of some 13 questions having to do with problems American expats and accidental Americans are currently experiencing that they submitted on Monday to the country's finance minister, while the matter was also addressed, in Dutch, in a program on Feb. 18 on the Dutch BNR newsradio channel, and in an article on the NU.nl website.
Around 42,000 Americans in Netherlands
It's not known how many Americans currently live in the Netherlands, although Dutch media reports have said it's around 42,000. It's thought that the number has increased recently, due to the relocation of some U.S. corporate staff there from the UK, in response to Britain's recent departure from the European Union.
The U.S. Embassy didn't immediately reply to a request for comment, although a State Department spokesperson said any questions should be directed to the U.S. Treasury Department, which also has yet to reply. ING Bank also didn't return an emailed request for comment.
One Netherlands resident, who requested anonymity but who is familiar with the troubles American expats are having in the country, noted that checks became obsolete there years ago, owing to the Netherlands' "extremely efficient digital banking system," and the fact that checks are viewed in banking circles as a fraud risk.
The fraud issue was also mentioned by a spokesperson for ING, quoted in the NU.nl article, as one of the reasons it decided "to do away completely" with checks, just as Rabobank and ABN AMRO had done the previous year.
What Americans in the
Netherlands are being told to do
Long-term, Americans abroad are advised to maintain at least a basic bank account back in the States for just this sort of situation. Expat campaigners have long campaigned for the IRS to enable direct deposits to non-U.S. bank accounts – which the U.S. Social Security Administration already does with Social Security payments – but thus far this hasn't happened, reportedly because of concerns over potential fraud and money laundering.
As long ago as last April, the Washington, D.C.-based American Citizens Abroad was urging then-Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig to urgently address the problems Americans even then were having in accessing their first CARES Act stimulus payments.
As reported, the Treasury announced last May that it would begin sending out pre-paid debit cards rather than paper checks to those taxpayers who reported having problems cashing them.
It isn't yet known how many, if any, expats have received such pre-paid debit cards (pictured left).
Paul Atkinson, a spokesperson for the Paris-based Association of Americans Resident Overseas, said one of the problems, even at this stage, is that "the Treasury Department doesn't know who has a U.S. bank account – in other words, who would be happy to have the check – and who doesn't, and would therefore be better off with the debit card.
"The result is that someone in Treasury more or less just guesses," he added.
"The obvious solution would be to offer a choice."
Meanwhile, because American expats were struggling with overseas bank account issues long before the covid pandemic shone a spotlight on them, the Washington, D.C.-based American Citizens Abroad has been running a program for its members since 2016 that enables them to obtain State Department Federal Credit Union bank acccounts. Once an expat opens such an SDFCU account, they will be able "to mail or scan" their CARES Act stimulus check to the bank for deposit, according to ACA executive director Marylouise Serrato.
Electronic transfers from the IRS won't be possible "until you have an SDFCU account set up, in order to provide the IRS with [your bank account] information," Serrato added.
She said the organization is "still in active discussions" with the IRS on the issue of making deposits into foreign bank accounts possible, among other issues, and that it continues to advise the IRS as well as it addresses the changes that have been called for by the so-called Taxpayer First Act, a 2019 bill aimed at making the IRS more "consumer-friendly."
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