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Social Security checks switch to digital by March 1

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013, at 10:07 p.m.

Paper checks

The Treasury Department said more than 31,000 Social Security and other federal, non-tax payments are made to Kansans by paper checks monthly. That figure represents 5.6 percent of all Social Security and federal non-tax payments made in the state monthly.

Here’s the breakdown for Wichita area counties:

• Butler County: 609 a month, or 4.9 percent of all monthly payments.

• Harvey County: 358 a month, or 4.4 percent of all monthly payments.

• Sedgwick County: 5,514 a month, or 5.8 percent of all monthly payments.

• Sumner County: 308 a month, or 6.2 percent of all monthly payments.

Source: U.S. Department of the Treasury

More than 31,000 Social Security and other federal payments are mailed to Kansans each month – more than 6,700 of them in the Wichita area.

But come March 1, the Treasury Department wants that number to be zero.

Kansans would still get paid, but electronically.

The move away from paper checks is mandated by a federal law that sets the March 1 deadline, Treasury officials said. Instead of sending checks through the mail, payments will be made by direct deposit to a bank account or loaded on to a MasterCard debit card for those who don’t have a bank account.

This is Treasury’s last, big push to get recipients who are still receiving paper checks to make the switch. Most already have made the move.

And those who still get their checks in the mail will have to make the switch sooner or later, said Walt Henderson. He is a Treasury official and director of the Go Direct campaign, a 2-year-old effort to convert Social Security and other non-tax, federal benefits payments – such as Veterans Affairs and Railroad Retirement Board payments – from paper checks to electronic funds.

“We certainly hope that everyone who can comply does,” Henderson said.

Those who don’t sign up for direct deposit or the Direct Express debit MasterCard will continue to receive payments, though Treasury will contact them by mail individually, Henderson said, to “see what the situation is and if we can assist them in making the switch.”

Henderson said that since the Go Direct campaign was begun, recipients have been urged to comply through information printed on the back of the envelopes of their mailed checks as well as printed material placed inside the envelopes.

He said the government also has worked with more than 1,800 organizations – including senior centers, other community organizations and financial institutions – to get recipients to act.

Area bankers said they are working with their customers who receive Social Security to make the switch.

Steve Carr, president of Community Bank, said he thinks 99 percent of his bank’s customers who receive Social Security have made the switch to electronic payments. But Trish Minard, CEO of Southwest National Bank, said she knows of many hold-outs at her bank.

“There’s some real reluctance,” Minard said. “A lot of elderly customers, they’re more comfortable taking a check to the bank.”

Southwest’s staff tries to get them to sign up for direct deposit when those customers come to the bank. But, Minard said, they get a lot of, “Yeah, next time I’m in” responses.

The reason for converting to electronic payments is simple: Treasury officials estimate the conversion of remaining check recipients will save taxpayers $1 billion over the next 10 years.

There also is the safety factor, Henderson said. Mailed checks can be lost or stolen, or their delivery delayed because of weather, he said.

“We’re sensitive to that,” Henderson said of the reluctance to change. “But all we’re doing is changing the delivery method from the mailbox and putting it directly into an account. You don’t have to go on the Internet, you don’t have to have a computer. You will do your banking the same way.”

Recipients who want to convert to electronic payments can call 800-335-1795 or visit www.godirect.org.

Reach Jerry Siebenmark at 316-268-6576 or jsiebenmark@wichitaeagle.com.

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