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Social Security checks are going away — at least the paper version

Unemployment payouts have gone electronic. Same for U.S. Savings Bonds, a program that ditched the once-ubiquitous paper version in 2011.

Next stage in the government's electronic age: Social Security checks.

About 93 percent of Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments are already being made electronically. The remaining paper check holdouts face a March 1 deadline to make the switch.

The holdouts will have two options for their future payments: sign up for direct deposit through a bank or credit union account or get a Direct Express debit card.

The debit card was introduced in 2008, and the electronic switch has been in the works for two years. Yet, organizers say they're not surprised that millions are clinging to paper versions due to either procrastination or fear.

"Some people might have some lingering fears or misconceptions about direct deposit," said Walt Henderson, director of the EFT (electronic funds transfer) strategy division within the Department of Treasury's Financial Management Service.

About a third of the holdouts do not have a bank account.

Nationally, about 5 million Social Security and other federal benefits checks are still shipped in the mail to beneficiaries every month.

The government mails out 196,000 Social Security and SSI checks to Florida residents each month; the vast majority of its 4.5 million monthly payouts to Floridians are electronic.

Florida has the fourth-highest number of Social Security recipients still on the paper trail — behind only California, New York and Texas.

The government promotes the transition to electronic payments as safer, easier, more convenient, and cheaper for taxpayers. It costs about $120 million now to send out the paper checks.

To spread the word the switch is imminent, the Treasury Department has partnered with 1,800 community organizations and financial institutions. It also reminds recipients in mailings every month with their check.

One other unsubtle reminder: A countdown clock at godirect.org ticks down the seconds to the deadline.

Still, Henderson acknowledges that there will be a number of holdouts who will still want paper checks after March 1.

In those cases, the government will reach out directly to see if there are unique circumstances preventing a switch, such as a medical situation.

One thing the government won't do is automatically stop the payments or force someone into an electronic conversion.

"We just made the decision to not be that drastic in converting someone without their authorization," Henderson said. "These represent in many instances a person's sole source of income, so we don't want to interfere with that."

Jeff Harrington can be reached at jharrington@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8242.



.Fast Facts

New recipients already switched

Since May 1, 2011, all people newly applying for federal benefits — including Social Security, SSI, Veterans Affairs, Railroad Retirement Board, Office of Personnel Management benefits and other nontax payments — have had to choose direct deposit or a Direct Express debit card when they sign up. March 1 is the deadline by which all remaining federal benefit check recipients must receive their money electronically.

For more information, go online to godirect.org or call 1-800-333-1795.

Social Security checks are going away — at least the paper version 01/20/13 [Last modified: Monday, January 21, 2013 8:27am]

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