Electronic transition to affect 63,000 beneficiaries
For a higher percentage of people in West Virginia than in any other state, the check is still in the mail.
The Social Security check, that is. And that's about to change.
More than 63,000 West Virginia Social Security and Supplemental Security Income recipients will be affected this March when the federal government ends its practice of mailing paper benefit checks.
Beginning March 1, all federal benefit and non-tax government payments will be made by electronic transfer rather than paper check.
The move will affect about 12 percent of the 537,473 West Virginians who receive monthly Social Security or Supplemental Security Income checks, according to the U.S. Treasury Department's Financial Management Service.
The federal agency's data ranks West Virginia 24th among the 50 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico in the total number of people still receiving paper checks.
However, the state ranks first in percentage of beneficiaries still receiving paper checks. Mississippi and Louisiana are the only other states with more than 10 percent in that category.
West Virginia AARP spokesman Tom Hunter said the high percentage is a function of the state's demographic profile.
Hunter said many in the state's older generation have been "un-banked" for most of their lives. He said they've resisted the change to electronic payments.
The mandatory change was included in a set of 2010 Treasury Department rule changes designed to reduce costs.
Each paper check costs the Treasury 92 cents more than direct deposit. Officials estimate the transition will save the government $1 billion over the next 10 years.
While the vast majority of beneficiaries opt for electronic payments, about 5 million people nationwide still receive paper checks each month.
Federal officials have been encouraging people to sign up for direct deposit for several years. Since 2011, all new benefit applicants have been required to use electronic payments.
Officials are now making a final push to make sure the remaining paper check recipients are ready for the change.
"The Treasury Department has taken great strides to support and guide check recipients through the change to electronic payments, and we're increasing our efforts significantly in the final two months before the deadline," Financial Management Service commissioner David Lebryk said in a statement.
Federal officials have set up a website, www.GoDirect.org, to guide beneficiaries through the change.
Those who receive paper checks can switch to either direct deposit or sign up for a Direct Express Debit MasterCard.
The card works just like a bank ATM debit card. Beneficiaries can use it to pay bills, withdraw cash or make regular transactions using funds from their benefit account.
More than 464,000 West Virginians already are using either direct deposit or the Direct Express card for their monthly benefits.
Lebryk said anyone receiving paper checks can visit the GoDirect.org website or call 800-333-1795 to switch to direct deposit or the Direct Express card.
Anyone who does not make the switch by March 1 will automatically be issued a Direct Express card.
AARP officials plan to team up with federal officials over the next two months to help inform members of the pending change.
"We're going to do a very hard push," Hunter said. "We're going to be using all of our publications - our bulletin, our magazine, our newsletters and e-blast - to notify people of the changes that are going to take place in March."
Hunter said the AARP favors the change since it provides seniors the ability to get same-day benefit deposits and protects people from having their checks stolen.
He said officials would encourage seniors to be on the lookout for scams leading up to the transition.
He said seniors should be extra cautious if they get calls from people claiming to be with the Social Security Administration.
"If they would have any sort of contact from people by phone asking them for their address, Social Security number or bank account information, that's likely a scam or fraud," Hunter said.
He said anyone receiving a suspicious call should avoid giving away any personal information and then notify law enforcement to report the call.
Contact writer Jared Hunt at email@example.com or 304-348-5148.
Breakdown of paper checks:
Beginning March 1, the U.S. Department of the Treasury will no longer mail monthly paper checks to recipients of many federal programs, including Social Security and Supplemental Security Income. Those currently receiving paper checks will need to switch to electronic payments by that deadline. The move will affect nearly 12 percent of the state's Social Security and SSI beneficiaries.
West Virginia's paper check profile:
- Social Security paper check recipients: 43,547
- SSI paper checks recipients: 19,682
- Total paper checks recipients: 63,229
- Total Social Security & SSI payments (paper & electronic): 537,473
- Checks as a percent of payments: 11.8%
- State ranking, by number of paper checks: 24th
- State ranking, by percentage of paper recipients: 1st
- Annual savings if all state residents were direct deposit: $698,048
Source: U.S. Department of the Treasury, Financial Management Service