Wal-Mart unveils moves to pull in stimulus money

No. 1 discounter will let shoppers cash their checks for free and offer additional discounts on key groceries.

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Catching up on bills. Going on vacation. Filling up the gas tank. A snapshot of what Americans plan to do with their stimulus payments.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- In a move designed to attract consumers' rebate money, Wal-Mart Stores said Tuesday it will let shoppers cash their federal stimulus checks for free at its stores and offer additional discounts on groceries.

Wal-Mart (WMT, Fortune 500), the world's largest retailer, said no purchase is required to take advantage of the free check-cashing service.

Wal-Mart's efforts, which are the latest among similar competitive moves by other retailers to grab their share of the rebate money, also coincide with the second day of the federal government's direct deposits of stimulus payments - part of an effort to boost the economy approved by Congress earlier this year.

Stimulus payments will be distributed to most tax-paying Americans. Overall, the Treasury will distribute more than $110 billion to 130 million taxpayers by July.

The National Retail Federation (NRF) estimates that about $43 billion of that total amount will be directly pumped into the retail sector.

Wal-Mart said it will offer customers more discounts on grocery and household items, including sports drinks, shampoo, breakfast juice, lunch meat, cereal boxes and cereal bars.

"With over six in 10 Americans expecting their stimulus checks to cover their family needs, it's a price gap that will deliver real value in the weeks ahead," the company said in a statement.

"We're looking at this through the eyes of our customers, who need low prices all the time," said John Fleming, Wal-Mart's chief merchandising officer.

As an extra incentive, Wal-Mart said it will refund the purchase fee on its Wal-Mart MoneyCard, which is a re-loadable prepaid Visa Debit card, when any portion of the economic stimulus check is loaded onto the card.

Wal-Mart's wholesale club unit Sam's Club will also offer cash checks for free for its members, said Sam's Club spokeswoman Susan Koehler.

Additionally, Koehler said the company is offering a $40 gift membership to non-members when shoppers purchase "select" products between May 11 through May 31.

"Non-members can apply this toward a free year-long membership at Sam's," said Koehler, adding that members have the option to either apply the gift membership toward a renewal or pass it along to friends and family.

Other retailers getting aggressive, too

Besides Wal-Mart, several other merchants who are facing slumping sales at their stores have promised to aggressively court shoppers as the stimulus payments go out in the weeks ahead.

Department store operator Sears Holdings (SHLD, Fortune 500) will give a bonus gift card worth an additional 10% to anyone who converts their stimulus checks into gift cards at a Sears or Kmart store between May 14 and July 19.

Sears said the bonus cards have no expiration and no fees.

Home Depot (HD, Fortune 500), the top home improvement seller, is combining a green pitch with its rebate-grabbing effort.

Spokeswoman Jean Niemi said Home Depot has partnered with Rep. Brian Baird, D-Wash., to support a resolution encouraging consumers to invest their tax rebates in their homes through energy efficient products and services.

She said the retailer plans to offer special values on energy-efficient products such as lightbulbs and home appliances, as well as springtime projects starting in May and running through the summer.

"This effort will help turn a short-term stimulus into a long-term investment by saving consumers money over time through reduced electric bills and energy costs," Niemi said.

Consumer electronics seller RadioShack (RSH) said shoppers who use their rebate checks to buy an item priced at or above $50 between May 4 and July 12 will receive a 10% discount on their purchase.

Any remaining amount from the check will be placed on a Vision Silver Prepaid MasterCard, which the retailer said can be used wherever MasterCard is accepted.

"While we would certainly love for them to spend everything at RadioShack, we understand other obligations may be necessary," said Peter Whitsett, executive vice president of merchandising for RadioShack.

"Our offer gives [customers] the best of both worlds. Save upfront on their consumer electronics purchase and save the rest of the money for a later date," he said.

Several supermarket chains, realizing that rising food prices are a particularly thorny issue with Americans, are offering their own deals tied to the stimulus money.

Beginning May 2 until July 31, Kroger Co., (KR, Fortune 500) the No. 1 grocery chain will let its shoppers exchange their tax refund or stimulus checks for a Kroger gift card with extra "free" money added onto it. So a $300 check can be exchanged for a $330 gift card and a $600 check can be exchanged for a $660 gift card.

SuperValu (SVU, Fortune 500), which owns Cub foods and Shop 'n Save, has a similar program to Kroger's. The company said its shoppers can also exchange their stimulus or tax refund checks for a store gift card loaded with extra money.

From May 2 to July 31, SuperValu said it will add $30 to a gift card for $300 that's bought with the checks. To top of page

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