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ARLINGTON, Va. — The Air Force has joined the Army in debuting overseas a new paperless check cashing system that takes hours instead of weeks to clear checks drawn on servicemembers’ U.S. banks.

Paper Check Conversion, developed by the U.S. Treasury Department, uses optical scanners and computer software to convert a paper check into an electronic image that can be transmitted over a secure computer line to the Federal Reserve Bank in Cleveland, Ohio.

Once there, the image is submitted to the financial institution for payment — again electronically, according to Michael Weber, an Air Force banking officer in the service’s Financial Policy office in the Pentagon.

The actual check, meanwhile, is voided and returned to customers on the spot to keep for their records.

The entire process takes 24 to 48 hours, instead of three to four weeks it used to take to physically ship the checks back to their U.S. banks for processing, Weber said.

The Army was the first to unveil paperless checks, at three bases in Germany in September.

The Army now uses PCC at all of its Europe bases, as well as at a few unnamed Army bases in Qatar and Kuwait.

The Air Force began testing the system in November at four sites in Europe: Geilenkirchen Air Base, Germany; Incirlik and Izmir air bases in Turkey; and Stavanger Air Base in Norway, Weber said.

Meanwhile, “some Air Force sites in the Persian Gulf” that can’t be named for security reasons have also unveiled the system, Weber said in a Monday interview in his Pentagon office.

Weber is also talking to Air Force officials in the Pacific about installing the check cashing system, and said that both Osan and Kunsan air bases may have a few sites up and running as early as February, he said.

Weber said the Army and Air Force decided to test the system at bases overseas because paper checks written on U.S. banks typically can take three to four weeks to process.

It’s a familiar problem to servicemembers and their families who have lived overseas.

“I was raised in Europe [with a military family], and I always thought all checks take four or five weeks to clear,” Air Force spokesman Capt. Peter Kerr said Monday.

“It was an accepted fact of life.”

With the paperless system, “those days are over,” Weber said.

Weber said he wasn’t sure how long it might take before all overseas bases have the system.

“As we roll this out, people are seeing it works really well,” he said.

“Eventually, we could roll it out any place that takes checks on base, including overseas banks and credit unions. But you have to walk before you can run.”

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