Having problems activating your California gas tax refund debit card? Try again

A sign with gas prices ranging from $6.78 to $7.28 per gallon at a Chevron station
Drivers fuel up at a Chevron station in Torrance. Direct-deposit payments for California’s Middle Class Tax Refund program have begun, and some people appear to have received debit cards early.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Jose Ahumada was hoping to use his $350 gas tax refund from the state of California on the necessities: food, gas, credit card payments.

But when he received the one-time payment via debit card in the mail Friday, the phone number required to activate the card wasn’t operational. When he called the line, he said, he listened to a “prerecorded message” that simply explained the state’s Middle Class Tax Refund program in English, then in Spanish — then the call would end. There was no option to activate the card or talk with a representative, and he found no help online, he said.

“The website and customer-service numbers don’t provide any help or assistance, and the only way to activate the card is via phone,” Ahumada said.


The debit cards appear to have been mailed early to some people who were unable to access the funds over the last few days. The 800 number required for activation — the same number listed on the website for the program — had no option to activate the cards, and calling the line was the only method to initiate card use.

According to the state’s Franchise Tax Board, which is running the rollout of the refunds meant to help Californians deal with rising prices from inflation, the debit cards were expected to be mailed out starting Oct. 25. But according to reports on social media and a few residents who spoke with The Times, many people have already received the cards in the mail, some as early as last week.

One-time payments ranging from $400 to $1,050 will arrive starting Friday. The state will spend $9.5 billion as part of the tax refund program.

Oct. 24, 2022

But hours after The Times inquired about the glitch to the tax board, the phone number was updated to allow activation to debit card users by Monday evening.

On Tuesday, Catalina Martinez, a spokesperson for the Franchise Tax Board, said the debit card vendor’s “customer service line and card activation services are now available.”

Martinez said 17,500 debit cards — less than a percent of the 10 million expected to go out — were “inadvertently shipped early by our card vendor.” She said the tax board became aware of the early shipments Friday, after receiving calls from cardholders.

Martinez said the rest of the debit cards should be mailed according to the tax board’s posted schedule, between Oct. 25 and Dec. 10.


Californians who received their debit cards can call 800-240-0223 to activate them.

Ahumada, who lives in the San Gabriel Valley, said Tuesday he was able to call the updated line and get his card activated.

California is expected to spend $9.5 billion as part of the payment relief program, with one-time payments ranging from $400 to $1,050 for couples who filed jointly on their 2020 state income tax returns or $200 to $700 for those who filed independently.

On top of the 10 million debit card payments, 8 million Californians will receive refunds by direct deposit, the state estimates. Direct-deposit payments began Oct. 7.

Franchise Tax Board officials said it could take until the end of the year to issue all direct-deposit payments and debit cards.

Frustration about the card activation process swirled across the internet over the last few days, with many concerned about accessing their funds — some even making direct pleas to the governor.

California residents can learn more about eligibility for the program via the Franchise Tax Board.

Times staff writer Nathan Solis contributed to this report.