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Stroke Smart Magazine

July/August 2008
Q & A

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Instant Access: The Social Security Debit Card

with Paul Gada

What is the Social Security benefit debit card?
The debit card program, called Direct Express, was designed to help people without bank accounts access  their Social Security benefits. In place of paper checks, a debit card is issued and monthly benefits are loaded automatically onto the card. There are no paper checks to become lost, delayed or stolen. The program is run by the U.S. Treasury Department through Comerica Bank.

When will we see this card?
The Direct Express program was introduced in the spring of 2008 in Arkansas, Louisiana,  Oklahoma and Texas. It is being phased in across the nation this summer.

What are the benefits?
The main advantages are convenience and security. In the case of people with disabilities,  such as stroke survivors who may have limited mobility, having the debit card would eliminate the need for a special trip to cash a Social Security Disability Insurance benefit
check. People who are hospitalized or traveling wouldn’t have to worry about how to get their money. Also, funds on the card are FDIC insured, just like money in a bank account. So the money is fully protected, even if the card is lost or stolen.

What are the costs?
Social Security recipients in the Direct Express program are allowed one free ATM cash withdrawal per month from a designated ATM. A 90-cent fee is charged for each extra ATM withdrawal. Cardholders also may be charged a “surcharge fee” by ATMs outside of the
Comerica Bank network. Program participants pay a 50-cent fee per online bill payment, if they choose that option. They can receive a paper statement for a 75-cent monthly fee. A card replacement fee will be assessed the second time a card needs to be replaced in any given year.

What is the down side?
The debit card is positioned as a cost-savings program. But recipients could end up paying more in transaction fees than the average $6 to have a paper check cashed, if they don’t pay attention.

How do I know if this card is right for me?
Having paper checks mailed is generally the least beneficial and least secure option. However, before signing up for the debit card, potential cardholders should consider how accessible in-network ATMs are to them, how often they would be making withdrawals and
whether or not they want an electronic bill payment feature. They then should compare the costs and benefits of the debit program to a traditional bank account.

If I already have a bank account, can I get a debit card?
The Direct Express debit card program is primarily for people with no bank account. If you have a bank account, the easiest, most beneficial and lowest cost option is to have your Social Security benefit payment direct deposited.

How do I get a card?
For current information, call (877) 212-9991 or go to Allsup’s Disability Resource Center at www.allsup.com/SSDIPaymentOptions.aspx.

Paul Gada, JD, is a personal financial planning director for Allsup, a national provider of Social Security, health care and financial services for those with disabilities.


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