Wal-Mart Offers To Cash Stimulus Checks - For Free

WalmartNow that the much-debated rebate checks are starting to arrive, Wal-Mart is joining the list of retailers that are actively courting economic-stimulus shoppers.

The Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer says it will cash the government's stimulus checks for free, with no purchase required. And it will also waive the purchase fee on its Wal-Mart MoneyCard, its prepaid debit card, if consumers load them with any portion of their rebate funds.

Wal-Mart also unveiled a new package of rollbacks--not on splurge items like consumer electronics or jewelry, but in the grocery aisles. The retailer says it expects more than six in 10 Americans to use the funds to cover basic family needs, so rollbacks include shampoo, breakfast juice, lunch meat and cereal bars. During the coming weeks, Wal-Mart says it will unveil "additional rollbacks to help shoppers stretch their dollars."



A Wal-Mart spokesperson says the stimulus perks and rollbacks will be advertised in circulars and on the company's Web site.

Meanwhile, TNS Retail Forward, a consulting company based in Columbus, Ohio, predicts that the federal tax rebates will give retail sales "a significant and much-needed boost in the next two quarters," with sales gaining "as much as 3 percentage points in the third quarter and half that in the second quarter."

It estimates that shoppers will spend as much as $42 billion of the $105.7 billion tax rebate total at retail stores from May through the end of the year. But its take on the percentage of rebate bucks going to everyday needs is considerably lower than Wal-Mart's. Only about 23% in its most recent ShopperScape survey say they plan to use their rebate check for such everyday expenses as groceries or gas (and 31% of those earning less than $22,500, a group that represents a big chunk of Wal-Mart shoppers.)

Just 19% overall (14% of down-market shoppers) say they expect to use the check on a big splurge.

And plenty of consumers say they will be avoiding retailers altogether--32% say they plan to use the money to pay off credit cards or other bills, and 30% say they will save it.

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