AUSTIN EDITION - COL Direct deposit: the safest way to get benefits
By Cherryl Kjos
Austin Social Security District Manager
Last year, after several cases of anthrax-contaminated mail were discovered, people asked me if I thought their Social Security checks might be delayed or if it was safe to handle those checks. Social Security checks were received on time and our mail was safe to handle. But in the future, the best way to alleviate any worry about the delivery of your Social Security check is to sign up for direct deposit.
Direct deposit is the safest and most convenient way to get your benefit payments. You don't have to worry about lost or stolen checks. You don't have to stand in line at the bank or go to the bank in bad weather. Your benefit payment automatically goes into your account for your immediate use. I also tell people that if they are not using direct deposit and their check is lost, it can take up to six weeks to investigate and replace a check. Why take the chance?
More than 45 million people receive monthly benefit payments from Social Security, and more than 80 percent of them use direct deposit. In the past, people have been reluctant to sign up because they didn't have a bank account, they thought it was too costly to maintain an account or they preferred to get cash and "control" their money.
In addition to being safe and convenient for beneficiaries, direct deposit is more efficient and saves money for the taxpayers, because it's less expensive than preparing and mailing checks monthly. The government saves 40 cents each time someone uses direct deposit instead of a check. It costs 42 cents to process and mail each check, compared to 2 cents for direct deposit. If all of the Social Security and Supplemental Security Income beneficiaries who currently receive a check signed up for direct deposit, the taxpayers would save $8.4 million a month.
Signing up for directs deposit is easy. Call Social Security's toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213, or call or visit your local Social Security office. Banks, savings and loan associations, and credit unions also can help you sign up for direct deposit.
If you do not have an account and cannot open one, the Department of Treasury has special accounts available to anyone who gets a federal benefit payment. Electronic Transfer Accounts (ETA), which are federally insured, provide the full range of consumer protections. ETA features include:
A maximum cost of $3 per month.
At least four cash withdrawals per month.
No minimum balance, unless required by federal or state law.
A monthly statement listing all deposits and withdrawals.
To find out more about this option, call 1-888-382-3311, toll-free. Or look for the ETA logo in the window or lobby of any local bank, savings and loan or credit union.
Cherryl Kjos is the Social Security district manager in Austin.