It has been more than a year since Social Security required all new recipients to get their payments by either direct deposit to a bank account or via a debit card. By March 1, 2013, everybody else has to make the conversion.
There are about 4 million current Social Security recipients who are holdouts, the Treasury Department's Financial Management Service reports.
If you're among those who don't want to let go of that paper check, here are four factors that might change your mind.
Big savings. The savings in envelopes, ink and stamps are expected to save Social Security a total of $1 billion over 10 years. That's especially good for those living in retirement.
It's free for users. You don't have to have a bank account to go paperless. You can choose a debit card that Social Security calls Direct Express. The card gives you one free withdrawal per month from a network of ATMs. The list is on the GoDirect.org website -- search by ZIP code. Subsequent monthly withdrawals cost 90 cents, but you can use the card for purchases and get cash with those transactions for no additional charge.
Converting makes people happy. People who are already using the Direct Express card told Treasury they like it:
- Ninety-seven percent said the card is a safer than paper checks.
- Ninety-three percent said the card is more convenient than cash.
- Ninety-one percent said the card makes it easier to pay bills.
- Eighty-five percent said the card helps them manage their retirement planning.
It's safe. If you lose a Direct Express card, the government will replace it for free -- once each year. If you lose more than one card a year, replacements cost $4 with additional charges for overnight mailing if you need that convenience. These debit cards have slightly better protection than other kinds of debit cards. You'll be protected from losing money if you report the loss of the card within 90 days as opposed to 60 days for most cards.
This is a better experience than you'll have if you lose your Social Security check. Treasury won't mail a duplicate check until it has investigated the disappearance and made sure the first check wasn't cashed. Then a new check has to be ordered, printed and mailed via the U.S. Postal Service. All of that takes time.
One of the biggest reasons for holding out, suspects Bradley Benson, financial management service public affairs specialist, is the hope that Social Security will have a harder time garnishing your check for unpaid child support or student loan payments -- almost all other debts can't be garnished. Benson says the long arm of the Treasury will get your money anyway -- no matter how it's set up to be delivered.
Walt Henderson, director of EFT strategy division for the Treasury Department, says you can make the switch online or over the phone.
- Go to the website GoDirect.org (It's not a .gov site because it's owned jointly by the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve).
- Call toll-free -- (800) 333-1795. To prove who you are, be prepared to tell the person answering the phone the check number of your latest check and its amount.
If you are choosing direct deposit, you'll need to know your bank's routing number and your account number. Generally, both are across the bottom of your checks with the routing number on the left and the check number on the right.