Fourteen thousand federal-benefits recipients have chosen to receive their funds electronically in prepaid debit card accounts instead of by check since the U.S. Department of the Treasury's Financial Management Service began promoting the option in 10 states earlier this year. The MasterCard-debit cards, known as Direct Express cards and issued by Dallas-based Comerica Bank, are available to any federal-benefits recipient who requests them, but "we are staggering the marketing in order to ensure a manageable process," says Judith Tillman, Financial Management Service commissioner. The bureau in April began marketing the cards to check recipients in Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas, each of which has a large number of residents who receive benefits checks. Last week, it began promoting the debit cards in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina and South Carolina, which have a relatively high risk of weather-related disasters, says Tillman. "We are doing the remaining 40 states and territories at eight to 12 states per month, depending on state size," she says. Some 4 million unbanked individuals receive Social Security and Supplemental Security benefits, and the bureau expects to save $42 million annually if they convert to using the prepaid card to secure their funds, says Tillman. It costs the bureau 98 cents to send a check versus 10 cents for a direct deposit, she says.

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