December 23, 2005

Don’t take risks: Go Direct!!!

By Pablo Jaime Sainz

If you receive federal benefits from the U.S. government, such as a Social Security check, a new program can make your life easier at the same time that it can assure you will receive your payment on time.

Go Direct, or Directo A Su Cuenta in Spanish, is a national campaign that reaches out to people who receive Social Security and/or Supplemental Security Income benefits through organizations and people they know and trust to educate them about the benefits of direct deposit, and help them sign-up for it. 

It is an effort by the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve to make it easier and safer for recipients of Social Security and Supplemental Security Income to get their monthly payments—and in doing so, save the government millions of dollars in postage, printing and related costs.

Currently, the Treasury Department mails about 160 million benefit checks a year, which translates into $100 million in printing and mailing expenses. In about 2½ years, the first of 77 million baby boomers will become eligible for Social Security benefits, which could cause the number of mailings and related costs to soar.

It is also about assuring those who receive benefits to receive them on time and safely.

Direct deposit is significantly safer than checks – in fact, no direct deposit payment has ever been lost or stolen. You are 30 times more likely to have a problem with your check than with your direct deposit payment.

In 2004, more than 70,000 checks issued by the U.S. Department of the Treasury were forged. The checks totaled more than $61 million. Check fraud and identity theft are growing risks for all Americans.

Sponsored by the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the Federal Reserve Bank.

Benefit recipients who use direct deposit can access their payments as soon as their bank or credit union opens on payment day.

But it will not be an easy task.

Even with the efforts to encourage people to use electronic payments and to inform the public about this issue, the direct deposit rate has declined at about 1% a year.

Only about 75% of those who receive Social Security benefits are enrolled in direct deposit.

Direct deposit is safer than mailing checks. No direct deposit payment has ever been lost or stolen. It’s easier than checks, because people who get benefits don’t need to go to the bank or credit union to deposit a check. Their payment goes straight to their account on payment day each month, giving people more control over their money. It’s simple to sign up for direct deposit – it just takes a few minutes to enroll by phone or in person at a Go Direct event, bank or credit union, or a local Social Security office.

Many different types of organizations and institutions – from banks and credit unions to community- and faith-based groups – play an important part in Go Direct. As a Go Direct partner, organizations participate by:

• Holding events.

• Recruiting and training volunteers.

• Endorsing and publicizing the campaign.

• Incorporating Go Direct campaign information in regularly scheduled events, conferences and training.

In San Diego, the campaign barely began last week, but representatives expect more organizations will join it.

In sum, Go Direct offers you many advantages:

It’s safer. Direct deposit protects people from fraud and identity theft. In fact, no direct deposit payment has ever been lost or stolen.

It’s easier. Payments go straight into your account, so you don’t have to go to the bank or credit union to deposit a check.

It gives you more control. Direct deposit is completely predictable – you know you’ll have your money at the same time each month. Also, you don’t have to be at home when the check arrives – your money is already in your account on payment day.

If you receive federal benefits, there are four ways to sign up for direct deposit:

• Telephone: Call 1-800-333-1795 (English) or 1-800-333-1792 (Spanish).

• Bank or credit union: Tellers in financial institutions can help people fill out forms authorizing direct deposit of federal benefit payments.

• Local Social Security office: Make an appointment or drop in. Social Security officers can help you sign up for direct deposit.

• By Mail: You can print out an enrollment form from the Web site for the Treasury Department’s Go Direct campaign, at http://www.godirect.org/(English) or at http://www.directoasucuenta.org/(Spanish).

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