Response mixed to direct deposit for Social Security

September 18, 1997


Staff Writer

Geneva Fellers doesn't like the idea of having her Social Security check deposited directly into her bank account.

"I don't want it. I want to know I have the money in my hand before I spend it," said the Martinsburg, W.Va., resident, who said she knows fellow senior citizens who have had bad experiences with direct deposit. "I'm old fashioned. I don't like it at all."

Like it or not, Fellers may have to switch over to direct deposit by Jan. 1, 1999, the deadline Congress set for converting government benefits from paper checks to electronic fund transfers, commonly referred to as direct deposit.

The Social Security Administration is waiting for Treasury officials to determine how the federal law will be implemented and who will be eligible for a waiver before notifying Social Security recipients of the requirement, said agency spokesman Dana Edwards.


Since the law was enacted in 1996, all new recipients who have bank accounts have been forced to have their benefits electronically transferred into their account, Edwards said.

Meanwhile, he said, the agency is continuing its long-time push to get existing recipients to switch voluntarily.

Direct deposit saves the government money - up to 40 cents per check - in paper, handling and postage, Edwards said.

It also saves the government the expense of processing mounting lost and stolen check claims, he said.

And it's safer and more convenient for beneficiaries, who don't have to worry about having their check stolen or making a trip to the bank to deposit it, Edwards said.

Once they try direct deposit, customers generally say they like it, said Cheryle McCarter, who works the single-teller Hagerstown Trust Bank branch at Homewood Retirement Center in Williamsport.

The trick is getting the person to try, said McCarter, who said she'll suggest it when processing a Social Security check.

That's getting rarer, she said.

"I'm finding more and more of the people now have direct deposit," McCarter said.

The hold-outs seem to either fear the money won't be in their account on the day it's supposed to or just prefer the tangibility of a check, she said.

She said she reassures them that they can come by or call to check on whether the money has made it into the account.

After the first time, they're usually reassured, McCarter said.

Williamsport resident Pat Beachley admits she had a hard time adjusting when she switched to direct deposit about a year ago.

"I don't know. I just liked to see that it my mailbox," said Beachley, 82, who said the advantages finally convinced her to try it.

She said she's happy with it now, though she still misses getting the check in the mail.

Florence Lowe, 93, of Williamsport, said she and her late husband started having their checks deposited years ago, when they were dividing their time between Maryland and Florida.

"I can't see why in the world anybody wouldn't have it," said Lowe, who said she has direct deposit for all of her checks, including a teacher's pension from Frederick, Md.

Jackie Morgan, 65, of Martinsburg, W.Va., said having her Social Security and other retirement benefits electronically deposited into her bank account gives her piece of mind.

"I want the feeling if I go away, the money is in the bank and I don't have to worry. It just relieved a lot of worrying," said Morgan, who has had direct deposit of her Social Security benefits since she became eligible three years ago.

Joseph Webb said he signed up about a year ago "because it was the best thing to do" and thinks it's good the government is going to mandate reluctant recipients follow suit.

"Sometimes the government has to make certain requirements," said Webb, 81, of Williamsport. "People are a little resistant to change when they're used to doing things a certain way. But, in the long run, it saves people from going to the bank, getting their pockets picked or getting robbed - that sort of thing."

Statistics show the Tri-state area is lagging in beneficiaries opting for direct deposit.

As of February, 67 percent of Social Security recipients nationwide were getting their benefits electronically, Edwards said.

Only 54 percent - or 11,823 - of Washington County's Social Security recipients had signed up for direct deposit at that point, he said.

The rate in West Virginia's Eastern Panhandle was slightly higher: 56 percent or 6,234 recipients in Berkeley County; 57 percent or 3,415 recipients in Jefferson County; and 58 percent or 1,638 recipients in Morgan County.

The area's lowest rate was in Fulton County, Pa., which had only 44 percent or 1,102 recipients signed up for direct deposit, Edwards said. The rate in Franklin County, Pa., was 57 percent or 12,546 beneficiaries.

He said the agency has made it as easy as possible for people to sign up for direct deposit.

It can be done over the telephone between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. any business day, Edwards said. Recipients will need to furnish their name, Social Security number and bank account number.

The phone number is 1-800-772-1213.

The Herald-Mail Articles