A Treasury Department cost-cutting move could force more Americans to use reloadable debit cards, according to government officials. In a statement to reporters, Treasury Secretary Richard Gregg said that paper checks to American taxpayers actually cost the government $120 million per year. Requiring Americans to accept tax refunds, Social Security payments, and other federal disbursements by direct deposit would save more than $1 billion over the next decade.

However, as Gregg pointed out, not every consumer has access to a checking account. According to recent surveys conducted by the Pew Charitable Trusts, more than three in five Americans select financial service providers based on their proximity to home or work. For a growing number of consumers, prepaid debit cards offer more convenience and lower fees than some traditional checking accounts.

Setting mid-2011 as a target date for the switch, Gregg said that Americans without access to checking accounts would qualify for Direct Express debit MasterCard accounts designed exclusively for government payments. Many retailers can transfer balances from the government-issued cards to privately issued, reloadable debit cards that rival checking accounts on both features and fees.

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Joe Taylor Jr. is an internal business consultant for a Fortune 500 company, who writes about finance, culture, and design. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Communications from Ithaca College.