Congressional Staff Handbook
Information about the Financial Management Service for Congressional Staff
Treasury's Financial Management Service Office of Legislative and Public Affairs is pleased to provide you with this Congressional Staff Handbook. It includes information about the functions of FMS, and answers the questions most frequently asked of our staff and undoubtedly of your office as well.
This handbook covers a wide variety of topics relating to FMS's work. These include:
We hope the FMS Congressional Handbook will be useful to you in serving your constituents. Please let us know if we can be of assistance.
Melody Barrett, Director
About Treasury's Financial Management Service
The Financial Management Service (FMS), a bureau of the Department of the Treasury, disburses more than $2.4 trillion to more than 1 billion federal payments like Social Security, veterans' benefits and income tax refunds to more than 100 million people, collects more than $3.06 trillion in federal revenues, oversees a daily cash flow of $89 billion, provides centralized debt collection services to most federal agencies and provides governmentwide accounting and reporting.
FMS has about 1,600 employees, one-third of whom are located in two Regional Financial Centers (RFCs): Kansas City, MO, and Philadelphia, PA; and two Debt Collection Centers. The RFCs issue payments by electronic funds transfer (EFT) and paper check, and the Debt Collection Center collects debts older than 180 days on behalf of federal agencies. All FMS employees, including the Commissioner, are career civil servants.Return to top of page
FMS is the principal disbursing agent of the federal government. Each year, FMS issues more than 1 billion payments, or approximately 84% of all federal payments, in excess of $2.4 trillion. These include social security, veterans' benefits, Office of Personnel Management federal salary and retirement, railroad retirement, income tax refund and vendor payments.
In 1996, Congress passed a law requiring that most federal payments be made by Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT). Treasury's top priority is to provide the best possible service to individuals receiving federal payments and EFT is an excellent way to provide this service. EFT is secure, reliable, and convenient. EFT payments cannot be lost, stolen, or forged. Recipients who receive EFT federal payments do not have to visit their financial institution to cash or deposit their checks. Also, EFT will save the taxpayers more than $100 million a year because the cost to issue an EFT payment versus paper check is so much less.
In December 2010, the Treasury announced a rule to extend the safety and convenience of electronic payments to all Americans receiving federal benefit and non-tax payments. As of May 2011, anyone applying for benefits is receiving their payments electronically. Beginning March 2013, individuals receiving paper checks will need to switch to an electronic payment method. The Treasury Department's Go Direct® public education campaign will provide information to Americans about the change to federal benefit payments and make it easy for check recipients to switch online at www.GoDirect.org or by calling the helpline at 1-800-333-1795.Return to top of page
Frequently Asked Questions
1. If I receive military retirement payments from the Department of Defense and have a question about a payment, do I contact FMS?
No. Contact the Department of Defense since the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) determines the timing and amount of your payment and also issues your payment.
The toll-free number for questions relating to military retiree payments for all Services is (800) 321-1080.
2. I have received a federal payment from Treasury and do not know why I received the payment. How can I find out who sent the payment and why it was issued?
To determine if a payment was disbursed by Treasury, contact the Treasury Regional Financial Center (RFC) that issued the payment. For identification purposes, the city and state for each RFC is printed on the check. For electronic payments, contact your financial institution for the RFC symbol number which is included on the information accompanying the payment.
3. What should I do if I my federal payment is lost or stolen?
If you do not receive your payment, you should then contact the federal agency from which you expected the payment (example: Social Security Administration). The agency will submit a non-receipt claim to FMS. Once the status of the payment has been determined to be outstanding, if required, FMS will either return the funds to the agency for disposition or issue a replacement payment to you. If a check has been negotiated, you will receive a copy of the item and a claims package to complete and return to:
Federal agencies, not FMS, determine the timing and amount for payments, based on agency instructions, Treasury issues the payments.
4. If the amount of my payment is not what I expected, who do I contact?
Contact the federal agency with which you have your business relationship (example: Social Security Administration). Each federal agency maintains its own payment records and determines payment amounts.
Below is a list of toll-free numbers for the federal paying agencies:
5. I have a new address and have changed banks. What do I need to do to ensure my payments continue?
Contact the federal agency that pays you. They maintain your payment records and will update your records to reflect the new information. Do this immediately to avoid any possible delays in your receiving payments. If you are receiving your payments by direct deposit and have EITHER changed your bank or simply opened another account at your same bank where your federal payments are deposited, you must IMMEDIATELY advise the federal agency of this change so that future payments are correctly credited to your new bank and/or account. You should leave your old account open until your payments begin arriving at your new account.
6. What should I do if a relative dies who was receiving benefit payments from the federal government?
IMMEDIATELY notify the appropriate federal benefit agency at the toll-free number above. (See question #4) Your immediate attention to this matter will minimize any liability for you or your relative's financial institution. You should also send the federal agency and relative's bank written documentation of the death. This will also help minimize any liability for non-entitled payments.
7. How long can I wait to cash a Treasury check?
Current law requires that Treasury checks be negotiated within one year from the date of issuance. If you have a check that is more than one year old, contact the federal agency with which you have a business relationship (example: Social Security Administration). They will research your inquiry and issue you a replacement payment.
8. What is direct deposit and how do I sign up?
Direct Deposit is the safe, secure and easy way to have your federal payment (social security, veteran's benefit, etc.) deposited directly into your checking or savings account at your financial institution. There are several ways to sign up, including through your financial institution. You may also download the direct deposit sign-up form from FMS. You can expect your direct deposit to begin within 30 to 60 days of application. Sign-up methods can vary slightly among federal agencies, so contact the federal agency that pays you.
9. Who do I contact to inquire about the status of a payment request or claim that has already been submitted?
Inquiries concerning the status of a payment should be directed to the agency from which you expected the payment. Inquiries concerning the status of a non-receipt claim and general information concerning check claim matters should be directed to FMS. Check Claims Branch's Telephone Answering Team at (800) 826-9434, or if there is a specific concern, contact an FMS Customer Liaison Specialist at (202) 874-8445.
10. What changes are being made to federal benefit payments? Will I receive my federal payment electronically or by paper check?
The U.S. Department of the Treasury now requires all federal benefit and non-tax payments to be made electronically. (Non-tax payments include federal wage, retirement and vendor payments.)
Since May 2011, people who apply for federal benefits must choose an electronic payment option when they enroll. People currently receiving benefit checks will need to switch to electronic payments by March 1, 2013. People who already receive their benefit payments electronically do not need to take any action.
There are many advantages to switching to electronic payments, not only for people who receive federal benefits, but for American taxpayers as well.
Safer, Easier. Electronic payments provide a safer, more convenient and cost-effective way for people to get their federal benefits than paper checks. Nine times out of 10, if there's a problem with a Social Security payment, it's with a check, not direct deposit. Each year, more than 500,000 checks are reported lost, stolen, or fraudulently endorsed.
More Convenient. When people get payments electronically, they don't need to visit a financial institution to cash or deposit a check to gain access to their money. This is particularly important to people who are elderly or disabled, or who lack access to transportation.
Taxpayer Savings. This measure also provides significant savings to American taxpayers who will no longer incur the $117 million a year price tag associated with paper checks – a number that would have ballooned as tens of millions of baby boomers begin to retire.
People who currently receive federal benefits by paper check should make the switch today to get their money a safer, more reliable way. If the benefit recipient has a bank or credit union account, he/she should sign up for direct deposit online at www.GoDirect.org, call (800) 333-1795, or visit their local bank/credit union branch or paying agency office. Those who prefer a prepaid debit card can sign up for the Direct Express® card by calling toll-free (800) 333-1795, visiting www.GoDirect.org, or contacting their paying agency. No bank account is required to sign up for the card.
11. Who may accept a federal payment on behalf of someone else?
An authorized payment agent is any person or entity that is appointed as a representative payee or fiduciary under regulations of the Social Security Administration, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Railroad Retirement Board, or other agency making federal payments, to act on behalf of an individual entitled to a federal payment. Common examples include relatives of the recipient or legal guardians who manage the recipient's finances. Financial institutions may require proof of payment agent authorization prior to the release of any funds.Return to top of page
Window Envelopes and Social Security Number Visibility
The Financial Management Service (FMS) is pleased to announce that since December 2000, Social Security numbers are no longer visible through the window of Treasury disbursed check envelopes.
FMS strongly believes in the need to protect people's privacy and undertook the process to remove Social Security numbers from Treasury-disbursed check payments in the last few years. Beginning in 1998, the SSN was no longer visible through the window of the envelopes used to mail all Internal Revenue Service tax refund checks.
In September 2000, the SSN was no longer visible through window envelopes for Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) check payments. Finally, in December 2000, the remaining check payments were changed so that all Treasury disbursed payments no longer had the SSN visible through the window envelope.Return to top of page
FMS serves as the government's central debt collection agency, managing the government's non-tax delinquent debt portfolio. One of the key tools used by FMS to collect delinquent debt is the Treasury Offset Program (TOP).
Under TOP, FMS matches a database of delinquent debtors against payments disbursed by Treasury. With a match, recipients of federal payments who also owe delinquent debts have their payment offset or withheld to satisfy the debt. FMS uses the TOP program to assist states in collecting past due child support obligations.
FMS currently offsets OPM retirement, federal income tax refunds, vendor payments, federal salary payments, and Social Security benefit payments.
Another major collection program used by FMS is cross-servicing. Federal agencies are required by law to refer debt that is delinquent more than 180 days to FMS for collection. The cross-servicing collection program includes the issuance of Treasury demand letters, telephone follow-up, referral of debts for administrative offset and referral of debts to private collection agencies. FMS is also working to implement administrative wage garnishment as another collection tool under cross-servicing.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Why is Treasury contacting me about my debt owed to another federal agency?
The Debt Collection Improvement Act of 1996 requires federal agencies to refer non-tax debts over 180 days delinquent to Treasury for collection. The federal agency referring the debt certifies to Treasury that a debt is delinquent, and that a warning notice and information on contesting the debt have been sent. In turn, Treasury contacts the debtor as part of its offset or cross-servicing activities.
2. If I receive a letter from Treasury about the debt, whom should I contact about paying off my debt?
The letter will indicate the creditor agency or agencies to which the debt is owed. That is the first place you should call. If you are uncertain who you should contact, call the Treasury debt collection office toll-free at (888) 304-3107 to find out who to call to discuss repayment options or to make an inquiry.
3. If Treasury notifies me that some of my federal payment has been or will be taken to repay a debt, who can I contact to voluntarily repay my debt? Who should I contact if I have a question or want to dispute a debt?
If you receive a letter from Treasury informing you that part of your federal payment has been taken, or offset, to repay your federal debt, you should contact the creditor agency directly. The name and phone number of that agency are provided on the offset notice or warning letter sent to you by Treasury. The creditor agency will answer questions related to debts eligible for offset and will instruct Treasury to stop the offset process once the debt has been paid.
4. What will Treasury do to collect my debt?
If the debt has been referred for cross-servicing, Treasury will attempt to collect the debt through the use of demand letters, telephone calls, credit bureau reporting, private collection agencies, offset of federal payments, and administrative wage garnishment. In some cases, the debt will be referred to the U.S. Department of Justice for litigation.
5. What is administrative wage garnishment?
Administrative wage garnishment is a process by which federal agencies require a private sector employer to withhold up to 15% of an employee's disposable pay to satisfy a delinquent debt owed to the federal government. A court order is not required. Before garnishing an employee's wages, federal agencies are required to send the employee a warning notice and to give the employee an opportunity to contest the debt and/or garnishment. All potential garnishees who wish to contest the action have the right to inspect and copy debt records, to enter into a repayment agreement, and to have a hearing.
6. How are the private collection agencies regulated?
The collection efforts of private collection agencies are governed by various federal and state laws, including the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Under Treasury's contract with private collection agencies, there are numerous controls to ensure that debtors are treated fairly. FMS is responsible for the management of this collection contract. On a daily basis, FMS closely monitors the conduct and activities of the private collection agencies.
7. My payment was reduced, but I do not owe any debt to the United States, and I do not owe any past-due child support. What should I do?
Contact the federal or state agency collecting the debt which is listed in the notice you received. If you need information about whom to contact, call the Treasury Offset Program Help Desk toll-free at (800) 304-3107. If your debt has been paid in full, or if you do not owe the debt for other reasons, the agency collecting the debt is responsible for returning to you any part of your payment that should not have been reduced.
8. My federal payment was reduced two months ago for delinquent child support. The state has not received the money. Where is it?
Funds collected by the Treasury from your federal payment are sent to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the federal liaison office with the states on child support enforcement. HHS disburses the funds to the states. To obtain information on the status of a support payment, you should request the state to contact HHS directly.
9. My spouse and I filed a joint federal income tax return. Our tax refund payment was reduced for a debt owed by my spouse. How can I get my portion of the refund?
Complete Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Form 8379 (Injured Spouse Claim and Allocation) to get your share of the refund. To obtain the form, call the IRS, toll-free, at (800) 829-3676, or you can download the form from the IRS Web site at http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f8379.pdf. If you have questions about the form or need help completing it, call your local IRS office or call, toll-free, (800) 829-1040.
The completed Form 8379 should be mailed to the IRS center where you sent your original tax return. If you already filed Form 8379 with your tax return, please allow eight weeks from the date of your initial refund or offset notice for the IRS to process your claim. Only IRS can determine the amount of your share of the refund.
10. I have not received the balance of my IRS tax refund which was due to me after payment of my debt. What should I do?
Call your local IRS office, or their toll-free number at (800) 829-1040.
11. My ex-spouse owes child support. What is the Treasury Offset Program (TOP) and how can it assist me with payment collection?
If your ex-spouse is a federal payment recipient, the TOP allows the state to offset certain types of federal payments in order to collect the delinquent child support owed. Contact your state or local child support enforcement office to determine whether federal payments to your ex-spouse can be offset through TOP.
12. What is an administrative offset fee? May Treasury collect the administrative offset fee directly from the debtor?
An administrative offset fee is a processing fee to cover costs involved for FMS to collect the debt. Yes, under the administrative offset program, Treasury may collect this fee directly from the debtor.Return to top of page
FMS receives many requests from people inquiring about the possibility that the federal government is holding unclaimed government funds due to them. There is no governmentwide, centralized information service or database on how unclaimed government assets may be obtained. Each individual federal agency maintains its own records and would need to research and release that data on a case-by-case basis.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. What does FMS do with checks that are returned undeliverable or cannot be paid for one reason or another?
FMS cannot issue payments on behalf of federal program agencies until official certification of those payments is received from the agencies. In those cases when undeliverable, unnegotiated and/or otherwise unpaid checks are returned to the Treasury disbursing centers, FMS merely cancels the checks and returns the respective funds to the agencies that originally certified the payments.
2. How can I find out if the government has unclaimed money or property that may be mine?
To determine whether any unclaimed funds are being held by the federal government, you must determine the type of benefit or payment that could be involved, the date on which the payment was expected, and how the payment should have been made. Given this information, the agency responsible for certifying any payment due should be able to assist you in determining the current status of any payment involved.
The titles and addresses for all federal agencies are available in The United States Government Manual which is available in most public libraries. Most of the claims involve Federal Housing Administration mortgages which fall under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. If you are interested in tracing funds that may be due you, this may be a good place to start.
Another excellent resource is the Web site for the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators, or www.unclaimed.org. This association consists of state officials charged with the responsibility of reuniting lost owners with their unclaimed property. This site was developed by state unclaimed property experts to assist the public, free of charge, in efforts to search for funds that may belong to you or your relatives.
3. I received a letter stating that the Treasury Department may owe me money or may be holding funds (or property) in my name. The letter indicates that I can receive this unclaimed property if I pay a "finders" fee. Can these companies help me?
Several companies, or locator services, engaged in the business of identifying and recovering unclaimed assets for profit, acquire federal check issuance data from FMS and various federal government agencies under the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act. The information requested by these companies pertains to specific check symbols, numbers and dollar amounts identified on Treasury check cancellation listings compiled by FMS. These listings are not searchable by personal identifiers, such as a person's name or social security number.
Personal identifiers may, however, exist in federal agencies' check issuance or cancellation records. Using such personal identifiers, if available, these locator services attempt to locate the prospective beneficiaries, or "payees," for canceled/unpaid government checks and, on their behalf, attempt to collect the payment amounts from the federal agencies that originally certified the payments. It is important to note that these firms are also involved in recovering unclaimed property in the possession of state and local government entities.Return to top of page
Payments for most federal court judgments and Justice Department compromise settlements of actual or imminent lawsuits against the government are made from the Judgment Fund, and certification by FMS is required before a payment is made. Once this is done, FMS determines whether the judgment or award is final for payment purposes, calculates the amount of any interest which may be authorized by law, and initiates action to offset any known indebtedness to the United States by the judgment creditor. For more specific information about the Judgment Fund, please visit our Web site at: http://fms.treas.gov/judgefund.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. How long will it take to process my claim and when can I expect to receive payment?
In most cases, the certification and payment process takes approximately 4 to 6 weeks.
2. How can I check the status of my claim?
Contact the Judgment Fund Branch, by phone at (202) 874-6664, or by mail at:
It is helpful to have specific information such as the accurate spelling of the case name, the date it was sent, and the amount of the award. If the claim is in our database, we will provide you with a claim number. Please retain this number, since it is FMS way to identify the claim for future inquiries.
3. How long should I wait to call to determine the status of my claim?
Please wait two weeks, at minimum, before calling for the status. After two weeks, contact the Judgment Fund Branch at the phone number and address provided in question #2.Return to top of page
Important Phone Numbers