The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

January 17, 2013

Gov’t phasing out paper checks


JOHNSTOWN — No bank account? No problem!

The two choices recipients have are setting up direct deposit for an existing bank account or choosing the Direct Express Debit Mastercard.

 Appearances aside, the latter isn’t actually a line of credit, and is the only option for those without bank accounts.

The Direct Express card is a prepaid debit card specifically designed for federal benefits.

Beneficiaries can use the card just like any other debit card – at network ATMs, online or at the register – anywhere MasterCard is accepted. Unlike a checking account, recipients won’t have to pay any fees, and there’s no minimum account balance to keep.

Only one free ATM withdrawal is allowed per month, however, and only after that month’s deposit is posted.

Extra ATM withdrawals are 90 cents each.

Recipients who miss the electronic payment sign-up deadline will be contacted by mail, according to Walt Henderson, director for the Go Direct campaign.

“We don’t want to cause any sort of disruption,” he said. “But we do want to help them comply with the requirements.”

Those who already have a bank or credit union account can sign up for direct deposit through their bank, provided the service is offered.

Nursing homes and assisted living facilities that serve as the representative payee for recipients can find additional information at the Go Direct website, under the Skilled Nursing Facilities page.

After recipients have signed up, Henderson said the electronic deposits will take effect in one to two months.

‘I wouldn’t have it any other way’

Local beneficiaries who have already taken the plunge say they enjoy the simplicity, promptness and peace of mind that comes with electronic transactions.

“It turns up in the bank on the day they tell you it will,” said Tom Scullion of Westmont, who said he’s handled his finances electronically since 1996 and doesn’t usually carry cash. “And it’s the safest way because nobody can steal it.”

And it’s true: SSI checks left in mailboxes and large sums of money being carried to the bank by the elderly can be inviting targets for thieves.

Henderson cited more than 440,000 paper checks that were reported stolen last year, including $70 million in benefit checks that were fraudulently endorsed. Handling money electronically circumvents this, and more can be accomplished in less time.

“I can pay five bills in five minutes (online) – no postage,” he said. “Personally, I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

For Sandy Paskowski of Summerhill, the sign-up process was quick and painless.

“All you do is give your account number,” she said. “They take care of everything else. It's a really safe way of doing it.”

So, what are the last 7 percent waiting for?

“I think the biggest issue is procrastination,” Henderson said. “Secondly, I think there are misconceptions about electronic payment or direct deposit. A lot of our efforts in the Go Direct campaign are educating people and relieving any fears or misconceptions about how it works.”

“They say you can't teach an old dog new tricks,” said Paskowski. “But now, we're almost forced to learn these things. I think it's a good thing."

See a list of frequently asked questions about the benefits switch at


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