Illinois Unemployment Benefits Complete Payment Switch This Week

CHICAGO – Beginning Nov. 1, all unemployment insurance payments will be made either by direct deposit or debit card, reminded Maureen O’Donnell, director of the Illinois Department of Employment Security. Traditional paper checks no longer will be available. The modernization program was first announced in July.

The transition will make payments more secure, more timely, and easier to use. Claimants who initially sought benefits after July 31 will not be affected because they chose to use direct deposit or a debit card. Claimants who sought payments prior to July 31 and chose to receive a paper check are encouraged to use direct deposit. If direct deposit is not selected, claimants will be issued a debit card. IDES has offered direct deposit and debit cards since 2006.

“It is crucial that unemployment insurance be paid quickly, safely and efficiently,” O’Donnell said. “Eliminating paper checks makes the system more secure and is another way we can be respectful of everyone’s time and resources.”

There are no fees associated with receiving payments through direct deposit. Further, there are no fees associated with the debit card when used with more than 4,998 Illinois banks that accept Visa. Thousands more merchants and point-of-service counters in Illinois and across the country also accept Visa, including banks, drugstores and grocery stores. People also can get cash back after qualifying purchases. The Visa debit card is issued through Illinois National Bank.

Fees likely will be assessed when using out-of-network ATM machines or at merchants that do not accept Visa.

“We realize some workers are more comfortable with a check in their hands,” O’Donnell said. “We also are confident that those same workers will quickly come to appreciate the convenience and security of direct deposit and debit cards.”

Nationally, debit and credit card transactions more than doubled, from 25.3 billion to 50.8 billion, between 2000 and 2006. In that same time, debit card usage increased more than 200 percent. According to the American Bankers Association, more people today use credit or debit cards than cash.

The Illinois Department of Employment Security administers employment services and unemployment insurance through nearly 60 offices, including the Illinois workNet Centers, formerly known as the Illinois Employment and Training Centers. IDES also receives federal grants to provide and analyze labor market statistics and information.

Frequently Asked Questions

Direct Deposit

Q: How do I apply for direct deposit?
A: Fill out a Direct Deposit Authorization form. The forms are available at any IDES office as well as on the website Mail the form, along with a voided personal check, to IDES/Banking Services, P.O. Box 804600, Chicago, Illinois 60680. Please note that temporary checks cannot be used to start direct deposit.

Q: Can I fax the information?
A: Of course. Fax the form and a copy of a voided personal check to IDES Banking Services at 312 793-1231. Remember, temporary checks cannot be used.

Q: What if I have a bank account but don’t have a voided check?
A: No problem. Complete Section A of the form and then mail or fax it to your bank and have them complete Section B. Your bank can then either mail or fax the fully completed form to us, or they can return it to you and you can then mail or fax it to us.

Q: How soon before my payments begin to be direct deposited?
A: About three business days after the application is received. Faxing your application will be faster than the mail.

Q: How will I know if my benefits were sent to the bank?
A: You still will receive confirmation through the mail in what is called a Direct Deposit Benefit Payment Explanation.

Q: What if I change banks? Or keep the same bank but want the money in a different account?
A: It’s easy. Simply complete a new Direct Deposit Authorization form, just as you did when you first established direct deposit.

Q: Do I have to use a bank in Illinois?
A: No.
More information, including additional Q and A choices, is available at

Frequently Asked Questions

Debit Cards

Q: Do I need a bank account?
A: No.

Q: Are there fees?
A: Not if you use it at any place that accepts a Visa card, even with cash-back transactions. There might be fees at ATMs and check-cashing operations, such as currency exchanges.

Q: Can I get cash-back after a purchase at a grocery store or pharmacy?
A: Absolutely, free of charge if the merchant accepts Visa.

Q: How do I activate my card?
A: Call 800 627-2069. The telephone number also is on the back of each card. Establish a Personal Identification Number – called a PIN number. You can change that PIN number anytime by calling the same telephone number, 800 627-2069 or at
When choosing a PIN number, do not confuse it with other PIN numbers you might have, including those for Tele-Serve or internet claims filing.

Q: How do I know how much money I spent?
A: Tracking your spending habits is a great idea. You also can confirm a transaction history and how much money you have left by calling the telephone number on the back of your card, 800 627-2069. Or you could go on-line at, Both options are free.
You also can check your balance at an ATM machine, but that will cost 50-cents in addition to whatever ATM fees that specific institution charges. Remember, the debit card is not an ATM card.

Q: What if my card does not work or it is lost or stolen?
A: Stay calm. Call 800 627-2069. Help is available 24-hours a day, seven days a week. The call is free.

Q: This is not a credit card, right?
A: Exactly. This is not a credit card, which allows you to purchase items now and pay for them later. A debit card contains a specific amount of money. Once that amount is spent, merchants are not supposed to sell you items and you should not be able to obtain cash. However, should a mistake be made and the merchant completes the transaction, you will incur a negative balance and be charged a $15 overdraft fee. That is another reason to carefully track your purchases and cash withdrawals.

Q: Will I get a new debit card each time?
A: No. Please keep your card. As long as you qualify for benefits, IDES will automatically add money to your card. You will be notified through the mail how much has been added.

Q: Can I let a friend or relative use my card?
A: No. This is your card, with your benefits. Keep it secure, and do not write your PIN number on your card in case it is lost or stolen.

Q: Can I add money to my debit card?
A: No. This card specifically is for IDES benefits.

Q: What if I move and I report my new address through Tele-serve?
A: You must immediately contact your local office to continue receiving benefits on the debit card. If you do not contact the local office, you will not receive benefits.

More information on debit cards, including other Q and A questions, is available at

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