Paper social security checks will soon be retired

Published 3:23 pm Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Dear Savvy Senior,

Ive heard that the government is about to do away with paper Social Security checks and make direct deposit mandatory. Is this true? Ive always liked getting my retirement checks in the mail. Besides, I dont have a bank account for direct deposit. What can you tell me?

Concerned Senior

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Dear Concerned,

It is true! Paper Social Security checks will soon be completely retired and replaced with electronic payments. Heres what you should know.

Mandatory E-payments

In an effort to save money, the U.S. Department of the Treasury recently announced that beginning March 1, 2011, all new enrollees for Social Security, Supplemental Security Income, veterans, railroad retirement, and federal civil servant retirement benefits will be required to receive their payments by direct deposit either into a bank account or a Direct Express Debit MasterCard. And existing beneficiaries, who currently receive their government benefits via paper check, will have until March 1, 2013 to switch to electronic payments.

About 85 percent of federal benefit recipients already receive their payments electronically. Switching all beneficiaries to paperless payments is expected to save the government around $300 million in the first five years and $125 million each following year. It costs $1 overall to cut and mail a check but only 10 cents for a direct deposit. The Treasury issues about 135 million benefit checks annually.

Government Debit Card

If you dont want your government benefits direct deposited in your bank account, or if you dont have a bank account that your payments can be deposited into, youll need to get a Direct Express Debit MasterCard. This is a prepaid debit card that was introduced by the Treasury Department in 2008 as an alternative to the 10 million or so Americans who still get a paper Social Security check each month.

How it Works

With a Direct Express Debit MasterCard, your Social Security and/or other government benefits will automatically be deposited to your cards account on your payment day each month.

Your card can then be used to get cash from ATMs, pay bills online and over the phone, make purchases at stores or locations that accept Debit MasterCard and get cash back when you make those purchases, and purchase money orders at the U.S. Post Office. The money you spend or withdraw is automatically deducted from your account.

You also need to know that theres no cost to sign up for the card, no monthly fees, and no credit check required to enroll. There are, however, a few small fees for optional services you need to be aware of, like multiple ATM withdrawals. Currently, cardholders get one free ATM withdrawal per month, but additional monthly withdrawals cost 90 cents each not including a surcharge if you use a non-network ATM.

Another important feature is security. Your card is PIN-protected, the money in your account is FDIC-insured, and if the card gets lost or stolen it will be replaced with consumer protections if its reported promptly.

How to Sign Up

To learn more about the Direct Express Debit MasterCard program or to sign up, visit or call 877-212-9991. And to sign up for Social Security direct deposit, call 800-772-1213 or go to Also see Go Direct (, 800-333-1795), a national campaign sponsored by the U.S. Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve Banks that provides information on direct deposit and a variety of easy, safe ways to sign up.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of The Savvy Senior book.