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Background


BACKGROUND

The Debt Collection Improvement Act of 1996 (DCIA) requires most federal payments, except for tax refunds, to be made by electronic funds transfer (EFT) after January 1, 1999. On September 25, 1998, the Department of the Treasury (Treasury) issued 31 CFR Part 208 (EFT rule), which implements the EFT requirements of the DCIA. The EFT rule also includes the circumstances under which waivers are available to individuals.

The ETASM is an account designed by Treasury to ensure that individuals who are required to receive federal payments electronically have access to an account at a reasonable cost and with the same consumer protections available to other account holders at the same financial institution. The EFT rule provides that any individual receiving a federal benefit, wage, salary, or retirement payment is eligible to open an ETA.

On November 23, 1998, Treasury published for comment in the Federal Register a Notice of Proposed ETA Features. Treasury received 198 comment letters in response to the Notice. Comments were received primarily from financial institutions, financial institution trade associations, and consumer and community-based organizations. Treasury sought comment on proposed basic account features, compensation to financial institutions, and three additional features: accepting additional deposits, paying interest, and providing Automated Clearing House (ACH) debit capability.

Each financial institution that chooses to offer the ETA is required to offer the account under the terms and conditions of the ETA Financial Agency Agreement (FAA). The FAA incorporates, by reference, requirements set forth in the Notice of Final ETA Features published in the Federal Register, as may be amended from time to time.


PUBLICATION OF FINAL ETA ACCOUNT ATTRIBUTES

On July 16, 1999, Treasury published in the Federal Register a Notice of ETA Features. Based on comments received, Treasury has determined that the ETA will have the following attributes.The ETA shall:

  • be an individually owned account at a federally insured financial institution;
  • be available to any individual who receives a federal benefit, wage, salary, or retirement payment;
  • accept electronic federal benefit, wage, salary, and retirement payments and such other deposits as a financial institution agrees to permit;
  • be subject to a maximum price of $3.00 per month;
  • have a minimum of four cash withdrawals and four balance inquiries per month, to be included in the monthly fee, through any combination of proprietary automated teller machine (ATM) transactions and/or over-the-counter transactions;
  • provide the same consumer protections that are available to other account holders at the financial institution;
  • allow access to the financial institution's on-line point-of-sale (POS) network, if available;
  • require no minimum balance, except as required by federal or state law;
  • at the option of the financial institution, be either an interest-bearing or non-interest-bearing account; and
  • provide a monthly statement.

An ETA may include only the features set forth in the ETA Notice. Financial institutions may not offer, as part of the ETA, additional features, such as a check-writing feature or ACH debit capability, even if the cost of providing such a feature falls within the maximum monthly fee.

Financial institutions may not charge any fee in addition to the monthly fee for any required feature of the ETA. However, financial institutions may charge a fee for cash withdrawals and balance inquiries above the minimum required and for other services such as card replacement and account research. Financial institutions may impose fees for these services at their customary rates, except that overdraft fees may not exceed $10.00 per 24-hour period.

Treasury will compensate financial institutions $12.60 per ETA established as a one-time account set-up fee.


ETA AVAILABILITY

Financial institutions offering or planning to offer the ETA may be located by calling (888) 382-3311. A list of these financial institutions is available at www.eta-find.gov.

The ETA is a low-cost account offered by participating federally insured financial institutions to individuals who receive federal benefit, wage, salary, or retirement payments.

The following list has been drafted by Treasury as a guideline to determine which federal payments an individual must receive to open an ETA. Also listed are examples of payment types that do not qualify a recipient to open an ETA. The following examples represent, but are not limited to, federal payments that are and are not eligible for the ETA.


Examples of ETA Eligible Payments

Wage and Salary Payments

  • All civilian (federal employees) wage and salary payments
  • All military wage and salary payments

Benefit Payments

  • Social Security
  • Supplemental Security Income
  • Black Lung
  • Railroad Retirement Board Retirement and Annuity
  • Worker’s Compensation
  • Department of Veterans Affairs
    • Compensation and Pension
    • Educational Benefits
    • Compensated Work Therapy Program payments

Retirement Payments

  • Thrift savings distributions
  • Any retirement payments made by OPM or any other federal agency

Non-Eligible Payments

  • Wage withholding child support payments
    (Dept. of Health and Human Services, Office of Child Support Enforcement)
  • Payments to federal government vendors
  • State benefit payments (such as TANF)
  • State or municipal wage and salary payments
   Last Updated:  March 14, 2014