Deadline approaching on switching to electronic Social Security, VA benefits

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Posted: Tuesday, January 29, 2013 12:00 am

For those who receive federal benefits like Social Security and Veterans Affairs payments, the deadline to switch to electronic payments is fast approaching.

By March 1, the U.S. Treasury Department is requiring all beneficiaries — including those who receive payments on behalf of a beneficiary — to make the switch from paper checks to direct deposit or a pre-paid debit card.

The Treasury estimates the move to electronic payments will save taxpayers around $120 million. Additionally, the agency says electronic payments are more secure, as money is deposited directly into a recipient’s account.

Local senior citizen’s agencies haven’t seen much confusion or difficulty with the switch so far. Those who applied for Social Security benefits after May 1, 2011, were already required to receive electronic payments, and many others have already made the switch voluntarily.

“A lot of the people I’ve talked to have already been doing it for a long time,” said Nebraska AARP Director Connie Benjamin.

Two payment options are available in lieu of paper checks: Direct deposit, which deposits payments straight into a bank account, and a Direct Express debit card. The latter works like a standard debit card, but is funded by benefit payments.

Those who don’t choose an option by March 1 still will receive their payments via check, but will also receive additional correspondence from the Treasury encouraging them to make the switch.

The requirement is waived for a small group of recipients: those born before May 1, 1921, are exempt; and waiver forms can be requested by those who live in a rural area without ready access to a bank or who suffer mental impairment.

To make the switch to electronic payments, recipients are encouraged to visit — a website operated by the U.S. Treasury Department — or call 800-333-1795 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday. The direct deposit process also can be completed at local banks and credit unions and at federal benefit agency offices.

Recipients should have the following information ready when making the switch: Social Security number and a claim or check number from a previous payment, plus bank account number and the bank or credit union’s routing number.

It is important to note that no representative of a bank, credit union or federal agency will call and ask for any information. The change to electronic payments must be initiated by the recipient.

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