Yes, the deadline has passed but it is not too late to sign up for electronic Social Security checks.

Friday was the deadline for those receiving paper checks to make the switch, but U.S. Treasury's Walt Henderson said the department is still encouraging people to sign up.

Despite the deadline, no one has missed a payment because they did not sign up. This month's check was in the mail.

But a recent law requires everyone receiving Social Security and other federal benefits to sign up for direct deposit at a bank or credit union or for a Direct Express card account.

Switching is easy, Henderson said. The transition can be handled by any bank or credit union, or simply call the treasury department toll free at 800-333-1795 or go online to www.godirect.org.

Watch those fees

If you don't have a bank account and are considering placing your money on a debit card, ask about the fees.

For example, while the card is free, you must pay $4 if you lose it and need a replacement; 90 cents each time you use an ATM after the one free use per month; 75 cents if you want a monthly paper statement mailed to you; and $1.50 to transfer money to a personal bank account in the U.S.

However, the cards can be used anywhere Visa or Master Card are used to pay bills.

Henderson said ATM fees can be avoided by using the card at stores and getting cash back at that time, which is a good idea. On a fixed income, fees can add up quickly.

Lend a hand

Those who have not signed up will be reminded, Henderson said.

AARP recommends that families check in with elderly relatives or neighbors to help them make the transition.

If you know of anyone who may need help, lend a hand. Maybe it is as simple as giving them the number to call or, better yet, walking them through the process.

Several churches also provide support for the elderly by having the information readily available to them.

Henderson said the majority of people already receive benefits by electronic checks and did not have to make any changes.

As of January, only 5 million people received paper checks nationwide, he said. That figure is down to 4.2 million.

About 81,000 South Carolinians receive paper checks.

The change applies not only to Social Security benefits, but anyone receiving benefits through Supplemental Security Income, Veterans Affairs, Railroad Retirement Board, Office of Personnel Management and Department of Labor (Black Lung).

The change reduces cost and the chance of checks being stolen, officials said.

The treasury estimates that the switch from paper checks to electronic payments will save the federal government $1 billion over 10 years.

Maybe that could put a dent in the national debt.

Reach Assistant Features Editor Shirley A. Greene at 937-5555.