ConsumerWatch: Complaints Filed Over Social Security Debit Cards

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A direct express card. (U.S. Treasury Department)

A direct express card. (U.S. Treasury Department)

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS 5) – The Treasury Department is pushing to make all government benefits paperless by 2013, a move, the Obama Administration estimates, will save taxpayers $303 million in the first five years after the change takes effect, but the changes aren’t popular with some consumers. 

Anita Wills is one of millions who has or will be forced to access their Social Security payments through a pre-paid debit card.

The change, however, is not a welcome one to Wills. Wills relies on her Direct Express pre-paid debit card to pay her bills, but she said there have been several occasions where her Direct Express card would be randomly declined.

She said that she had spent hours on the phone trying to contact someone with Direct Express for help, and after she did, she was told her funds would be held for five days before they could be re-accessed.

“When they held that money for five days, I had to decide which bills are in front of me that I had to pay that day and then I had to call other people and tell them what was going on…” Wills said.

Michelle Jun of the Consumers Union agreed that it is very inconvenient for Wills to have her funds held. “That’s absolutely ludicrous, she’s depending on these funds so that she can make her bills,” she said.

Jun said, like Anita, many rely on their Social Security for their livelihood and cannot afford to have their payments held hostage for five days.

Jun said the Consumers Union gets even more complaints about Direct Express regarding its lack of customer service and people to speak to—an issue Wills is familiar with.

Only after she got in contact with ConsumerWatch was Wills able to get a hold of a customer service representative.

While the representative was very polite and apologetic, it was never made completely clear why some of her transactions were denied.

Direct Express tells ConsumerWatch that what happened to Wills is “an anomaly” and that they have “millions of successful transactions” and their card holder satisfaction survey has a 95% positive rating.

Despite the numbers, Wills said she is still not convinced and said “I think that’s a line of bull. Because when I called that day, they said ‘well, we’re having all kinds of people calling in, our lines are jammed.’”

Wills had to use a Direct Express card because she was not using a bank. If you do have a bank account, you can opt to have your benefits directly deposited.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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