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WASHINGTON – Credit unions are signing up with Treasury’s Go Direct program, promoting direct deposit for social security payments, faster than banks, a spokesperson said. According to Alvina McHale with Treasury’s Financial Management Service, about 1,300 depository institutions have signed up to promote the program so far with about 700 of those being credit unions. “Credit unions are really important to the mix of that group,” she commented, adding that they treat the initiative as just another way to better serve their members. Ohio Catholic Federal Credit Union CEO Stephen Halas explained, “We’ve been pushing direct deposit all along.” When the credit union learned about Go Direct, Senior Member Service Representative Sue Cobb took the idea and ran with it. Credit union employees set up a lobby display with the promotional materials, and provided cookies and coffee in the lobby. Ohio Catholic also offered a three-day getaway prize drawing with a $400 gift card. Within about two months, Halas said, the credit union added 37 additional members to its direct deposit program, most of who also opened up checking accounts and got debit cards. The drive even encouraged 22 of the credit union’s not-so-senior members to opt for direct deposit on their accounts and opened checking accounts. “I think what made the difference here was actually soliciting members in the lobby,” Halas said. Now Go Direct is a regular push at the first of the month when Social Security checks come in. Go Direct was perfect for Hiway Federal Credit Union, Glen Durbahn, vice president of corporate development, explained. “We were looking to improve our lobby traffic. We were looking to reduce our foot traffic,” he said. “And better service our members, of course,” Hiway CEO Travis Kasten interjected. “We looked at doing something similar on our own and it just seemed a natural fit for us,” Durbahn added. The marketing materials have already been developed and Hiway uses just about all of them from brochures to posters to electronic versions on its Web site (www.hiway.org). The credit union has gained 17 new members that it knows of based on the Go Direct initiative, but has not kept track over the nearly one year it has been involved. Not only is direct deposit serving members better by saving them the time from dropping off their checks and providing more attention to those who do come in the lobby, but it also helps prevent identity theft, Kasten pointed out. Earlier this month, NCUA issued a Letter to Credit Unions (06-CU-09) to increase awareness of direct deposit, particularly of Social Security benefits. That letter also noted, “Credit unions’ active promotion of direct deposit should be part of the credit unions’ disaster recovery plans in view of our experience last year. In those critical days following Hurricane Katrina, the Treasury worked with the Social Security Administration (SSA) to get displaced Social Security and SSI recipients their payments as quickly as possible. However, those who were already using direct deposit had immediate access to their funds from virtually anywhere, thanks to automated teller machines and financial institution networks.” NCUA Director of Public and Congressional Affairs John McKechnie stated, “The Agency has placed a high priority on being prepared in a variety of ways: Letters to Credit Unions, examiner involvement, and now an emphasis on Go Direct.” The upward trend in direct payments by Treasury is undeniable, McHale said. After the campaign began last July, about 25,000 signed up for direct deposit in August and September. As of May 2006, there were two months where it nearly reached 50,000. Go Direct ran radio ads in hurricane-prone cities and placed envelope stuffers with paper Social Security checks in the first week of June, which yielded almost 25,000 new enrollments in that week. “Once they switch, they never go back but getting them to make that leap is a bit of a challenge,” McHale commented. About 12 million Social Security recipients still receive paper checks. The number for the Go Direct Hotline is 1-800-333-1795. [email protected]

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