Seniors embrace switch to direct deposit

Feb. 14, 2013 @ 12:31 AM

Starting March 1, all Social Security benefits checks will switch from paper checks to direct deposit. That means no more going to the mailbox to get the check, and no more going to the bank to deposit it.

Initially, it may seem like this technology-minded change would put off seniors for any number of reasons, but in fact many seniors at the Fort Sanders Sevier County Senior Center are embracing the idea.

"I think it's wonderful," said Sally Lane, who doesn't draw Social Security yet, but her husband, Phillip, does. "I think most of the people already get direct deposit."

"I think it's a good thing," added Geanine Stowe, who does draw Social Security. "Mine's supposed to be deposited on the third (of the month), and it's deposited on the second. I love it."

The women explained that, when you first sign up to draw Social Security, you are asked whether you want the payment in the form of paper checks or direct deposit, and many seniors simply choose direct deposit then and there.

"They tell you it's safer to get direct deposit," Stowe said.

Indeed, the two were well aware of the risks associated with traditional paper checks. For instance, someone could steal the check out of the mailbox, they said, or if the senior allows someone to deposit the check for them, perhaps that person could take some off the top.

"All they've got to do is get the card and number and they can do that," Phillip said.

But while Lane and Stowe believed the switch would be no problem for the younger seniors, they worried that some of the older seniors would be resistant to direct deposit, whether because they don't fully understand the benefits or don't like change.

"Change is hard for anybody, so someone who is accustomed to seeing that check is not going to like not getting it," Sally said.

However, two older seniors, Betty George and Joan Hammond, debunked that line of thinking and proved to be very accepting of direct deposit.

"I think it's an excellent thing," George said. "I am for it absolutely."

George and Hammond said that not only are their Social Security payments directly deposited, but so are the majority of their bills and payments.

"And I would venture to say that just about everybody has it directly deposited anyway, because it's so much simpler," Hammond said.

Stowe suspected that some seniors would be wary of the change if they don't trust banks or don't have a bank account, noting that "some people still keep their money in mattresses." But the Direct Express debit card, introduced in June 2008, allows those without bank accounts to gather the payments through direct deposit.

Furthermore, the payments will not automatically be switched to direct deposit, and the U.S. Treasury will not interrupt payments if a senior does not comply. The seniors who don't make the switch by March, however, may receive letters offering assistance in switching.

Plus, seniors born on or before May 1, 1921, can still receive paper checks if they want, though Sally doesn't recommend it.

"That's just the way things are," Sally said. "It's part of the future."

rhargett@themountainpress.com