The Treasury Department is reminding the millions of Social Security recipients who get paper checks in the mail that they have until March 1 to switch to electronic payments -- either direct deposits into their bank accounts or MasterCard debit cards.
Paper checks for Social Security payments have been around since January 1940, when Ida May Fuller received a check for $22.54. Fuller received monthly checks until 1975, when she died at age 100.
Treasury officials say the electronic payments will save taxpayers millions of dollars a year and that the new system is safer. Thieves often steal and cash paper checks. Treasury officials said $93 million in Treasury checks were fraudulently endorsed and cashed in 2010.
Walt Henderson, a Treasury director of the campaign to sign up seniors for direct deposit, said for every $1 spent on printing and mailing a paper check, the cost for direct deposit is 10 cents.
Nationwide, 93 percent of the more than 60 million recipients of Social Security use direct deposit, Henderson said.
The government will continue to send checks to those who fail to switch over by March 1, Henderson said.
"We are very sensitive to the unique circumstances of some people," he said, adding that in rare cases someone may face inconveniences by using direct deposit or a debit card. Those people can apply for a waiver.
David Kaplan, of Calabasas, has been using direct deposit for nine months now.
"At first I had some reservations about it," said Kaplan as he stood among a group of people waiting to play table tennis at the Goebel Adult Community Center in Thousand Oaks recently.
Kaplan said many seniors think that if they don't have a check to hold, they could have less control over their finances.
Anita Green, of Thousand Oaks, said she gets direct deposit "because my husband got it."
"I never had a problem with it," Green said, adding, "It saved me the trouble of going to the bank."
Beginning in May 2011, anyone signing up to receive not only Social Security payments but also disability, veterans and other benefits paid through the Treasury had to use direct deposit or a debit card.
A Treasury website, http://www.godirect.org, provides more information on the program. The site also allows users to sign up for direct deposit or debit cards. People can also sign up by calling 800-333-1795.
Those who want direct deposit must provide the routing transit number of their bank and their account number.
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