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Social Security ends paper checks

By Jennie L. Phipps ·
Tuesday, January 8, 2013
Posted: 3 pm ET

If you're still getting your Social Security payment via paper, you have less than two months to switch to electronic delivery.

The deadline is March 1 to switch to either direct deposit or the government's MasterCard debit card. The switch isn't  optional. Since 2011, all new recipients have been required to get Social Security electronically. By March 1, remaining Social Security recipients must choose one of the two options.

If you are one of the 5 million holdouts, here's how to sign up:

  • Go to the website (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.

In either case, 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.

Direct deposit is free and Social Security funds are clearly marked so banks know that these funds can't be garnished under most circumstances (child support and student loan payments are exceptions).

If you aren't a customer of a bank, you can choose the  debit card option. The card gives you one free withdrawal per month from a network of ATMs. The list is on the 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.

If you lose the 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.

If you don't make a choice by March 1, you'll be issued a debit card.

There are a couple of potential ways around this.

  • Automatic waivers are granted to people born on or before May 1, 1921.
  • Check recipients living in remote areas without sufficient banking infrastructure may apply for a waiver.
  • Check recipients for whom electronic payments would impose a hardship because they are mentally impaired can ask for a waiver.

For your retirement planning convenience, here is the time table for getting paid:

Long-time recipients: They still get paid on the third day of every month. More recent recipients are paid based on the Wednesday closest to their birthdays. For instance, if your birthday is the 25th of the month, you get your Social Security on the last Wednesday of the month.

Veterans Administration, railroad retirees, retired federal employees and recipients of Supplemental Security Income, or SSI: All are paid a minute after midnight on the first day of every month.

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Esther Zundel
January 24, 2013 at 12:07 pm

Would you please tell me how to get this card. I need to know because I can't drive and my rent is due on the first of the month and besides that sseven other bills comming in at dffernt times of the month in Feb.
Esther zundel

Ken Federico
January 10, 2013 at 10:57 am

How does this affect residents of nursing or retirement homes ? What if a resident has no surviving relatives ?

John Andrews
January 10, 2013 at 10:55 am

If it is such a burden for people to get a photo ID for voting, how in the world do you expect people to have a bank account or handle a debt card. The cost and complexity of having a bank account or debt card far exceed the cost or complexity of getting a photo ID for voting.

wendell Archambo
January 10, 2013 at 10:54 am

Greg, you are a dumb----- Social Security has been like this for over 10 years, they have always had direct deposit but you have many people out there unwilling to cooperate. All direct deposits have to have a bank and numbers in order to deposit your money into an account.