Over the last few years, state governments have begun issuing prepaid debit cards rather than paper checks for government payments to individuals. Unemployment compensation, supplemental food assistance (referred to as SNAP or food stamps), and most recently, tax refunds, are being provided by direct deposit or loaded onto prepaid debit cards.1 These electronic transfers and debit cards increase efficiency of payment and decrease state costs compared to paper checks, which fewer states are providing. The first type of transfer, direct deposit, provides a safe, reliable and convenient method of payment for taxpayers with bank accounts. The other electronic option, prepaid debit cards, can help unbanked clients if states get the fees and accessibility right.
Ohio is considering legislation, Senate Bill 365, that would allow the state to issue a prepaid debit card as an option for those who do not receive direct deposit for their state tax refund. The state can save money by issuing the cards, but it is essential that Ohio set up a smart structure and appropriately regulate fees associated with the card.2 Getting these details right will ensure that Ohio families and communities fully benefit from tax refunds. This brief provides lessons Ohio can learn from experiences in other states and with existing cards here. According to the Department of Taxation, nearly 40 percent of those receiving state tax refunds -- 1.4 million Ohioans -- opted for a paper check and not direct deposit. Given the numbers of paper check filers, it is imperative that Ohio offers a prepaid debit card that is safe, transparent, and easy to use.