Patience has been a common virtue for businesses, financial institutions or agencies seeking to convert consumers to electronic payments and do away from paper checks.

It can take a long time to make such conversions complete.

But the U.S. government, possibly the granddaddy of payment issuers, hopes to have a major conversion to electronic payment complete by March 1, 2013, the date set aside for the end of Social Security payments coming as paper checks.

The question is, will grandma be ready?

The U.S. Treasury announced in March its intention to go “paperless” and to complete the conversion of benefit payments to direct deposit into recipients’ bank accounts or to a Comerica Bank-issued Direct Express MasterCard debit card account.

But the federal department continues to remind benefactors that a payment change is coming.

By setting the deadline a year in advance, the Treasury Department hopes it won’t be a difficult conversion, considering about 90 % of Social Security recipients obtain payments electronically already.

“As this deadline approaches, we’re urging the remaining 10% of federal-benefit recipients who still receive a paper check to make the switch to electronic payments as soon as possible,” Treasurer Rosie Rios stated in a press release.

Besides Social Security recipients, the switch to electronic payments affects those who receive benefits from Veterans Affairs, the Railroad Retirement Board, Supplemental Security Income and Office of Personnel Management.

The Treasury Department estimates the switch to e-payments will save taxpayers $1 billion over 10 years, noting it costs $1 to send a check and 10 cents to offer an e-payment.

In addition, direct deposit gets funds to recipients much faster, and it eliminates the risk of lost or stolen checks, the department noted.

Federal-benefit recipients obtaining monthly checks receive information with their payments about how to sign up for the e-payment conversion, a process similar to signing up for an employer to place salary payments in a bank account through direct deposit.

Senior-citizen advocates have raised concerns about the e-payment conversion, citing potential problems for frail elderly people who live on their own or who lack access to computers. Generally, those senior citizens have become accustomed to depositing paper checks at the their banks, the advocates suggest.

In addition, many senior citizens are not familiar with debit cards and do not have a bank account, David Certner, legislative policy director for AARP, stated in an April 16 Associated Press report.

AARP seeks an easier exemption to the Treasury rule stating beneficiaries who are 90 or older won’t be required to switch, the AP reported.

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