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Paper Social Security checks to end March 1

| Saturday, Jan. 12, 2013, 8:56 p.m.

Call it Treasury's “Seven Percent Solution.”

The Treasury Department says it soon will stop sending paper checks to those 7 percent of all Social Security recipients who still get their payments in the mail — prodding them into setting up electronic delivery of their monthly benefits.

In Pennsylvania, 180,563 people receive their monthly Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits in paper form. Nationally, the figure is about 5 million.

Treasury's solution to convert those paper hangers-on comes March 1, when the department starts disbursing Social Security and other federal benefit payments only by direct deposit into recipients' checking or debit-card accounts.

Recipients who have not already done so must provide to Treasury their bank account and bank routing numbers before March 1 so the government can deposit their money directly into personal accounts each month, said Treasury official Walt Henderson.

To convert from paper, recipients should call Treasury's Go Direct call center at 800-333-1795. Have an old check handy, if possible, because the call center representative will ask for information found on the government-issued check.

“If a person has a bank or credit union account, they can easily set this up,” said Henderson, who is d irector of the electronic fund transfer strategy division of Treasury's Financial Management Service, which is trying to cut overhead.

In fact, 93 percent of recipients have done so, out of the about 65 million Americans who receive Social Security and Supplemental Security Income benefits each month.

A paper payment costs Treasury about $1 to issue, said Henderson. But an electronic payment costs about 10 cents. Treasury estimates going paperless will save about $1 billion in administrative costs over the next 10 years.

“I don't think it will affect that much of the older population. The majority of (seniors) already have direct deposit,” said Rena Becker, executive director of Weinberg Terrace, a person-care facility in Squirrel Hill operated by the Jewish Association on Aging.

“Direct deposit is safe. And instead of cashing a check at a bank, this is a smarter way to go,” said Becker. “I think people have bought into that for a long time.”

Henderson said those without bank or credit union accounts may obtain a Direct Express card. It is a MasterCard debit card attached to accounts administered by Comerica Bank, which credits card holders' accounts with their monthly benefit amount from the government.

“The Direct Express prepaid card is very widely accepted, everywhere a MasterCard is accepted,” Henderson said.

Thomas Olson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7854 or at tolson@tribweb.com.

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