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Treasury tries to reach unbanked through refunds
WASHINGTON (9/3/10)--The U.S. Treasury Department, in a move meant to seize tax refund season as an opportunity to bring unbanked Americans into relationships with financial services providers, announced the launch of a new debit card pilot program that would require delivery of refunds through direct deposits. Treasury said its pilot will deliver targeted offers to certain low- and moderate-income individuals to sign up for new accounts with debit card access at tax time in order to receive their refunds through direct deposit. It will also test offering accounts that can be used year-round in the future to deposit other sources of income, store money safely, make purchases, pay bills, withdraw cash, and build savings. "Far too often, unbanked and underbanked Americans are forced to turn to high-cost alternative financial products--such as check-cashing and other services--that take a big bite out of the savings of those who can least afford it," said Assistant Treasury Secretary for Financial Institutions Michael Barr in a release announcing the program. "For many individuals, a tax refund is the single largest payment that they will receive each year. That's why tax season is a great opportunity to deliver safe, low-cost financial products to the unbanked and underbanked that will help those Americans build stronger foundations for their financial futures." The pilot is expected to launch during next year's tax return filing season. Treasury will reach out to eligible taxpayers in early 2011 through direct mail and by partnering with the private sector to insert enrollment into the paychecks and paystubs of select individuals who are not already using direct deposit to receive their tax refunds. Treasury has said that by March 2013 all federal payments, other than those made by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), will only be delivered by electronic direct deposit or debit cards. With the new pilot, observed Kathy Thompson of the Credit Union National Association CUNA), Treasury seems to be trying to figure out to what degree the government can encourage people, who are getting paper refunds, to accept receiving a debit card loaded with the refund instead. Thompson is a CUNA senior vice president and associate general counsel for regulatory compliance.
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