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Deadline Approaches for Social Security's "Paperless" System

PHOTO: The U.S. Treasury Dept. is going "paperless," so anyone who now receives a benefit check needs to arrange to have it deposited directly into their bank or loaded onto a debit card, like this one. Courtesy of U.S. Treasury.
PHOTO: The U.S. Treasury Dept. is going "paperless," so anyone who now receives a benefit check needs to arrange to have it deposited directly into their bank or loaded onto a debit card, like this one. Courtesy of U.S. Treasury.
February 18, 2013

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - The March 1 deadline is approaching for anyone who receives Social Security, SSI payments, or veterans' benefits by mail. To save money, the federal government wants to make all its payments electronically. That means a direct deposit into a bank account, or onto a debit card. If there's a senior in your life, it's a good time to ask whether that person has let Social Security know how they want to receive their benefits, or to offer to help them with the transition.

Cristina Martin Firvida, director of financial security for AARP's Government Affairs division, advises that, while it's important to get it done, don't worry too much about the deadline.

"If they have not made the switch by March 1, they should not worry. They will continue to receive their benefit," she said. "This is so important to reassure everyone: their benefit will still come in the mail after March 1."

If your choice is a debit card, Martin Firvida explained, there are a few important questions to ask. Find out about the fees for using the card; whether there's a good network of ATMs so you can get cash when you need it; and whether a debit card is practical for paying bills. All banks and credit unions offer debit cards – and now, the U.S. Treasury has a card, too, just for this purpose.

"You will get one debit card, and it will be reloaded each month," she said. "If you go with the Treasury debit card, they have set up a call center so that you have a way of calling and checking on the balance of your card, so that recipients can have that assurance that the deposit has been made to the card before they go out and use it."

AARP is warning people that, as with any change involving transfers of money, there are always scams that crop up. If you are called or emailed with reminders about the deadline or asked for personal information to help make the switch, said Martin Firvida, hang up or press "delete."

"Don't give that out," she cautioned. "No one from SSA is going to ask you for that kind of information by phone or by email. You should never respond to those kinds of inquiries."

She added that a bank or credit union can help arrange for direct deposits or a debit card account into which benefits can be paid. It can be done online, at GoDirect.org or by calling the Treasury Department at 800-333-1795.

AARP also has information about making this transition on its website, at AARP.org.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - AR