Alaskans applying early in record numbers for annual payout

What were you doing at midnight on New Year's Eve?

Dancing? Drinking? Toasting and getting kissed?

Then you were not among the hundreds of Alaskans who chose to welcome 2009 with fingers poised over a computer keyboard, eager to apply for the 2009 Permanent Fund dividend.

The application period opened at 12:01 a.m. Thursday and closes March 31.

In the first hour after midnight last year, 807 people filed online applications, according to Deborah Bitney, director of the Permanent Fund Dividend Division. By 2 p.m. last Jan. 1, 10,000 had applied.

But this year's numbers crushed that.

As of 2:47 p.m. Thursday, the count at the PFD Web site was 18,634.

By 6:14 p.m., it had ballooned to 26,772.

There's no obvious advantage to applying extra early. The advantage in terms of collecting the dividend goes to those who apply any time in January for direct deposit of the money into a bank account.

Exact dates haven't been set for when the state will pay the dividend, but a division spokeswoman said people who request direct deposit will get the money in early October; paper checks will be mailed in November.

How much will it be? No one knows, but almost certainly much less than the record $2,069 paid out last year, not counting the $1,200 energy rebate add-on. The dividend is calculated by averaging investment profits of the Permanent Fund for five years, so the tanking stock market won’t have as disastrous an effect on the payout as it has on, say, individual 401(k)s.

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