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Report Warns Texans of the 'Fee Factor' for Unemployment Debit Cards

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 By Deb Courson/Glen Gardner, Contact
January 21, 2011

AUSTIN, Texas - People out of work in Texas may need to get to work in reading the fine print if they're collecting unemployment insurance benefits. A new report from the Pew Center on the States finds that many receiving their payments on debit cards are getting dinged by fees.

For example, says Lauren Saunders, managing attorney for the National Consumer Law Center, Texas allows a $5 fee to withdraw money using a teller, after the first withdrawal each month.

"The fees can nickle-and-dime you. You need to be aware of them. People certainly should be able to have that money directly deposited into a traditional bank account as their first option."

Direct deposit is an option in Texas.

There cards' upsides are that they save states money, people collecting benefits have access to their money sooner, and people without bank accounts can avoid check-cashing fees because they can access cash at an ATM.

Texas Unemployment Insurance cards are issued by Chase Bank, and the Texas Workforce Commission has posted a schedule of fees on its website, www.twc.state.tx.us.

Saunders says the debit card companies make part of their profit in the deal through those fees, which states negotiate with the issuers.

"Prepaid card issuers go to the states and say, 'We can take all of these costs out of your hands and we'll pay the money out for free. How does that sound to you?'"

The U.S. Department of Labor has issued a "best practices" guide to states with recommendations that include allowing more free withdrawals.

The Pew report is at www.stateline.org.

Best Practices