Enabling the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Fiscal Service the ability to provide millions of Americans ready and safe access to their government benefits, is an essential element of the mission of the Direct Express® program. Not only does the innovative prepaid card program deliver benefits more cost- effectively and securely, it is a path to increased financial capability and financial inclusion for millions of unbanked Americans—giving recipients the tools they need to participate fully in the economy. In fact, nearly one-in-five unbanked adults in the US receives financial services through Direct Express®.

With the Direct Express® card, beneficiaries can perform transactions such as paying a bill by phone or online. Direct Express® users can benefit from setting up automatic payments for recurring expenses such as insurance or rent. They can also enjoy the convenience of shopping online—an especially valuable benefit for those who have limited mobility. Without a bank account, it can be difficult to obtain certain critical goods and services. Automatic bill payment or just having a card to make a payment can provide access to services such as mobile phones, internet service and utilities, which keep people connected and can improve their lives. In 2021, Direct Express® beneficiaries:

  • Made nearly $2 billion in telecom payments
  • Paid nearly $3 billion of their utility payments using the Direct Express® card
  • Spent $670 million on grocery purchases in more than 26 million transactions

“Underserved Americans have traditionally had few choices when it came to managing their limited federal benefit funds. Better prepaid card options have driven innovation into the federal benefits sector, which is good for consumers, who can now use prepaid cards to pay recurring bills quickly and easily, and access cash at no-fee ATMs.”

Jennifer Tescher, President and CEO, Center for Financial Services Innovation (Financial Health Network) 2019

Access to Funds

Easy and free or low-cost access to funds is essential to developing true financial capability. Direct Express® beneficiaries can choose to withdraw money from their card at ATMs—in many cases, without paying a dime. For example, in 2017, Direct Express® participants completed 41 million fee-free cash withdrawals from ATMs.

Many beneficiaries feel safer obtaining their cash from bank tellers or cashiers. Direct Express® beneficiaries have access to an expanding network of more than 165,000 locations—banks, credit unions and stores—where they can obtain their cash without paying a fee.

To increase access and reduce costs to beneficiaries, Direct Express® participants are able to access cash at more than 4,600 Walmart locations—the #1 retailer visited by Direct Express® beneficiaries.

Furthermore, should their card be lost or stolen, beneficiaries can call a toll-free number at any time, day or night, to speak to a helpful Direct Express® agent, have the old card invalidated and request a new one.

Support for Cardholders

Responsive customer service is an important education tool. Most beneficiaries do not read the educational materials included with the card, choosing instead to learn about the features, benefits and best practices of their Direct Express® card by turning to the Direct Express® customer service center available 24/7, 365 days a year.

Security and Peace-of-Mind

The Direct Express® card utilizes the global standard in security—EMV chip technology—which makes counterfeiting a card virtually impossible.

Direct Express® participants’ money is FDIC-insured up to the maximum legal limit ($250,000 per depositor,
 per insured bank, for each account ownership category), and their purchases are protected from unauthorized use by Mastercard Zero Liability. These safeguards generate high satisfaction among beneficiaries: 96 percent say they feel safer with Direct Express® because they don’t need to worry about theft.

The Direct Express® card also has the same consumer protections for fraud, loss and errors that are provided to traditional bank account holders under the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Regulation E.

Financial Capability Features 

Direct Express® also fields a number of features specifically intended to drive financial capability, including access to the Financial Education Center and a smartphone app which allows account monitoring and various other enhancements intended to empower cardholders.