Debit cards are new option for Social Security recipients

People who receive Social Security can now get their monthly payments on a prepaid debit card, a new alternative to checks or direct deposit.

The U.S. Treasury is offering the Direct Express Debit MasterCard card as a safe, convenient way to receive money, according to wickedlocal.com. The new card will be introduced in the District of Columbia and 13 states, including Massachusetts, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and West Virginia.

There are no sign up, monthly, or overdraft fees for the card, which is being rolled out by the Treasury Department and the Dallas-based Comerica Bank. No bank account or credit check is necessary to enroll. Cardholders can get cash at Direct Express network ATMs free once a month and at retail locations throughout the country.

The card is aimed at the approximately four million Americans without bank accounts. It solves the problem of finding a place to cash a paper check. U.S. News and World Report reported that check-cashing services average $40 per payroll check, according to the Brookings Institution.

The government reissues approximately 700,000 checks that are lost or stolen each year, according to Delawareonline.com. Judy Tillman, commissioner for the Treasury Department's Financial Management Service, said it's cheaper to issue payments electronically rather than mail checks. A paper check costs 98 cents while a debit card costs 10 cents, she said. Tillman estimated the program would save $142 million yearly.

Last year, the Treasury tested the card on 3,000 recipients in Chicago and southern Illinois. In April, the Treasury expanded the program to include 24,000 people in Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas.

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