People without bank accounts no longer have to wait for their Social Security Income or Supplemental Security Income checks to show up in their mailboxes.

The money now can be drawn down by a debit card, a move the U.S. Treasury expects to save millions of dollars and boost security for seniors and people with disabilities.

The Treasury today said that Direct Express Debit MasterCard is now available in Western states. The department touted the program as a convenient alternative to paper checks for Social Security Income and Supplemental Security Income recipients who don't have bank accounts. The program was unveiled in a few states last spring, and it now has been expanded, said Alvina McHale, legislative and public-affairs director for the Treasury's financial management service.

About 319,000 Utahns receive monthly Social Security Income and Supplemental Security Income payments, and most of the recipients are seniors and people with disabilities, McHale said. About 11 percent receive mailed paper checks, which cost the government 98 cents apiece. A direct bank-account deposit, or loading an account for the new debit-card option, costs the government 10 cents each.

Through the debit-card program, the Treasury could save more than $9 million a month if the 10.3 million people nationwide receiving paper checks now switch to the new card. The move also could alleviate risks of carrying cash, speed up the time when a person can receive payment and eliminate check-cashing trips, McHale said.

"Where normally you would be waiting for check to arrive, you'll have access to your money first thing in the morning," on the day checks are issued, she said.

The card acts only as a debit card, not a credit card. There are no fees and no penalties for inadvertently attempting to charge more than what's available on the account, McHale said. The card can be used to pay bills, to buy groceries or other goods and even to get cash back. Cardholders also can access 24-hour customer service and receive low-account balance alerts by phone, text message or e-mail.

Information about the program will come in recipients' September checks. Recipients also can sign up by calling (toll-free) 1-877-212-9991 or by visiting www.USDirectExpress.com.


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