U.S. Treasury to Launch Prepaid Cards for Unbanked Social Security, SSI Benefit Recipients
Washington, D.C. - (Jan. 4, 2008) - The U.S. Department of the Treasury's Financial Management Service (FMS) has designated Comerica Bank as its financial agent in a new initiative to give millions of unbanked Americans the option of using a prepaid debit card for receiving Social Security and other federal benefit payments. The "Direct Express®" card provides a safer and more convenient alternative to paper checks. Comerica Bank was selected, in part, because of its experience as a prepaid card issuer for millions of benefit recipients, particularly for state government programs.
"Direct Express represents a significant step forward in the evolution of federal benefit payments," said FMS Commissioner Judy Tillman. "The explosive growth in the prepaid card industry offers an important opportunity for Treasury to give unbanked payment recipients secure, easy access to their funds, at low or no cost to the cardholder. We ultimately would like to see an all-electronic Treasury - with all the security, efficiency and cost savings that would entail. This card takes us closer to that goal by combining the best in payment innovation with sound public policy. If every unbanked federal check recipient signed up to use the card, it would save taxpayers about $44 million per year."
The Treasury estimates that four million Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) check recipients do not have bank accounts, placing them at greater risk of check delivery delays due to poor weather, national or local emergencies, and other check related problems, such as lost or stolen checks. In fact, nine times out of 10, problems with Social Security payments are linked to paper checks, not direct deposit.
Financial Flexibility and Security
The Direct Express card will be introduced in spring 2008 and will be phased into national distribution by the end of the summer. Direct Express card holders will benefit from improved financial flexibility and security as compared to paper check recipients.
Each month, payments will be automatically deposited on the Direct Express card account on the federal beneficiary's designated payment day - which means people will have faster access to their money than they would if they had to cash a paper check. Card holders will be able to access their money at ATMs and financial institutions nationwide. They will be able to use their card to get cash back and make purchases at retail locations, as well as pay bills and make purchases online. In addition, these accounts are PIN-protected, FDIC-insured, and subject to federal consumer protection regulations (Regulation E).
"Millions of federal beneficiaries remain outside the banking system, which means they don't have access to payment methods that most Americans take for granted, such as getting cash at an ATM or paying with a card at a store," said Nora Arpin, Director of Government Electronic Solutions for Comerica Bank. "The Direct Express card provides an opportunity for people outside of the banking system, either because of personal choice or perhaps their inability to obtain a bank account, to gain a foothold in the financial mainstream."
The Treasury has already experienced significant success in increasing electronic payments with its Go Direct campaign, which is aimed at motivating banked federal benefit recipients to switch from paper checks to direct deposit. To date, Go Direct has achieved more than 1.6 million direct deposit conversions.
"Direct Express" is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of the Treasury, Financial Management Service.