Millions of Americans count on their weekly or bi-weekly checks from their employers or the federal government for Social Security or disability funds. For those who have yet to enroll in direct deposit, the stakes of going to the bank or a check-cashing facility to deposit their physical checks as coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to threaten public health are high.
A growing number of cities and states have curbed consumers from leaving their homes for non-essential purposes to stem the spread of the coronavirus. Financial institutions are considered essential, but banks like Chase and Capital One have started to close their branches or reduce their branch hours to contain the spread of the virus.
If you are among those consumers who have yet to set up direct deposit, you’re probably concerned about depositing your physical check in a timely and safe fashion and looking to avoid repeating the scenario in the weeks ahead. However, you have options. Here’s what you need to know about receiving electronic payments in the future and depositing your physical checks safely now.
Getting direct deposit set up
First, consumers who have not set up direct deposit should try to do so now.
While you might not be familiar with this process, it is fairly simple as long as you have a bank account: Typically, it requires providing your bank routing and account number, plus providing personal information such as your address on a form with human resources. You can call your bank and obtain the routing number or log into your bank’s website from your laptop or cell phone. Or, you look at one of your paper checks to get the information.
If you have a checking or savings account, it’s worth trying to get your employer on board with direct deposit if it doesn’t currently offer that as a payroll option, says Bruce McClary, spokesperson for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit organization.
If you receive Social Security and federal benefits, direct deposit can easily be arranged by following instructions available at the government’s Go Direct website. You will need to submit your banking account details and other personal information.
Since physical movement is more limited right now, utilizing technology to manage your money in all kinds of ways is becoming more necessary to help you not expose yourself or anyone else to the coronavirus.
“This virus will tectonically shift what we do and how we do it,” says Daren Blonski, managing principal of Sonoma Wealth Advisors in Sonoma, California.
How to deposit checks safely in a pandemic
If you have a paper check and still plan on depositing it at the bank or credit union, practice social distancing by staying six feet away from other customers. Another option is to use drive-through teller lanes to help you keep yourself at a distance from others. In advance of going to a particular branch, make sure your bank is still open. If it’s not, you have more options.
“You can use your bank or credit union ATM to deposit the checks into your account,” McClary says. “Most machines give account holders the ability to allocate funds to different accounts or receive cash at the time the deposit is made.”
Another option is low-tech. You can mail the endorsed check with specific deposit instructions to your bank. However, this will delay your ability to access your funds.
“Unfortunately, mailing a check can add several days of delay between the time a check is received and the time the money shows up in the account,” McClary says. “Mailing also involves an additional postage cost for the account holder.”
Calling the bank before you mail a check can help you determine the best way to send in the deposit.
For most tech-savvy individuals, you will want to use your bank’s mobile app to snap a photo of the front and back side of a check to deposit it. The majority of apps are free and can be downloaded within a few minutes.
“The beauty of this option is that it doesn’t require a trip out of the home and typically posts to a bank account just as quickly had it involved a trip to a bank branch or ATM,” says Mark Hamrick, Bankrate’s senior economic analyst.
Smartphone users who need additional assistance installing and using the bank app can ask for guidance from their bank to help them become more comfortable using the mobile deposit tool, McClary says.