Social Security is going plastic. A prepaid debit card for federal benefits is now available for recipients in some midwestern states.
The Direct Express Debit MasterCard was designed to appeal to the nearly 4 million Social Security and Supplemental Social Security Income recipients who don't have a bank account. Also, paper checks are more susceptible to delivery delays and theft; last year, 700,000 checks were lost or stolen.
Electronic payment of benefits also saves taxpayer dollars. "It costs 88 cents more per payment to make a check payment versus an electronic payment," said Judith Tillman, commissioner of the U.S. Treasury's Financial Management Service. "We're still making about 150 million check payments a year through paper checks."
The card allows Social Security recipients to make purchases and withdraw money from an ATM just as they would using a debit card. Money on the card is FDIC-insured and the card would be replaced if lost or stolen.
The card also comes with conveniences such as free e-mail, test message or telephone deposit notifications, low-balance notifications and the ability to check your balance.