Archived Story

The check is no longer in the mail

Published 7:26am Thursday, February 21, 2013

By Stephanie Carroll Carson

NC News Service

RALEIGH – 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 is shifting to making all its payments electronically.

The change means a direct deposit into a bank account or onto a debit card. If there’s a senior citizen in your life, it’s a good time to ask them if they have let Social Security know how they want to receive their benefits – or help them with the transition.

Cristina Martin Firvida, director of financial security, AARP Government Affairs Division, said while it’s important to get it done, people should not fret about meeting the deadline.

“If they have not made the switch by March 1,” she said, “they should not worry. They will continue to receive their benefit,” she said.

A bank or credit union can help arrange for direct deposits or a debit card, Firvida said. It can be done online, at www.godirect.org or by calling the Treasury Department at 800-333-1795. AARP also has information about making this transition on its website, at www.aarp.org.

When considering a debit card, Firvida noted that people should ask a few important questions: Find out about the fees for using the card, whether there’s a good network of ATM machines nearby so they can get cash when they need it, and whether a debit card is practical for paying bills. All banks and credit unions offer debit cards – and now, she said, the U.S. Treasury offers a debit 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 you have a way of calling and checking on your card’s balance.”

As with any change, scams will crop up, Firvida warned. She advised people to hang up or press “delete” if they get a phone call or email with reminders about the deadline or requests for personal information to help make the switch.

“Don’t give that out,” she said. “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.”

About 5 million people still receive paper social security checks.

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