1. Starting Next Year: The Check’s (Not) in the Mail

    Photo of Cindy BattlesDon’t expect your disability check to arrive in the mail anymore if that’s the way you’ve been getting it. Next year, the Social Security Administration is stopping issuing paper checks for all benefits programs. Now you will receive your benefit through direct deposit to your bank account or in a debit card you can use.

    It’s still tax time and tax refunds will still come through the post office. But the IRS does encourage electronic filing and encourages filers to go online by stating that it can process those refunds faster (and who doesn’t want their refund faster?) than mailed-out checks. The paperless payments switch will be made final by mid-next year. So what do these paperless changes mean? Well, if you’re one of the 90% who already receive their disability benefit electronically by direct deposit, the change doesn’t mean much.

    Obviously, all-electronic payments will be easier and safer than paper checks. As you might expect, every month, posted checks are reported lost, stolen or used fraudulently through the mail. And the Social Security Administration should save big bucks by going all electronic.

    This kind of switch has worked well for other government programs: the SNAP program (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – formerly known as food stamps) has already made the change from tear-out paper food coupons to debit cards years ago. I am one person who receives the monthly-updated food stamp card who was very glad for that change. Swiping a card, while using my food stamp allowance, promotes my privacy and dignity at the supermarket. I also already receive my disability through direct deposit. It is much easier to check the bank account on the third day of each month over the bank’s phone recording or a quick online look up rather than worrying about a check coming to my mailbox.

    To get ready for this change, you may need to open a bank account if you don’t already have one. NDI’s partner One Economy has good information on opening an account on their Beehive website. Opening your own account is your best option to make sure that you’re ready for the switch to direct deposit and that once switched, you’ll keep all of your monthly cash benefit and not lose any to unexpected fees. If you do not have a bank account, like my food stamps, each month, disability benefit payments will be added to the new debit cards, which can be used to make purchases. But these cards also come with some fees. You can check out the fees at the Go Direct website.

    Whether you are happy about it or not, paperless change is coming so you need to get ready for it. The government has created a website, www.godirect.org where you can find a toll-free phone number people can call for assistance in making this switch if needed.

    Soon, we’ll go green with our green. Way to go!

    Cindy

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    Cindy Battles is a freelance writer based in Rutland, VT, winner of the National Disability Institute’s 2008 Blog Contest and a regular contributor here on the Real Economic Impact blog.