September 27, 2023

Bucks: Beginning of the End for Paper Social Security Checks

Beginning Sunday, the federal government is “retiring” paper Social Security checks and switching to electronic deposits for new benefit applicants.

Here are the details: As of May 1, paper checks are no longer an option for anyone applying for new federal benefits, whether through Social Security or other programs. Instead, applicants must arrange for direct deposit to a checking or savings account. People who don’t have bank accounts, or who simply prefer it, can receive their payments on a prepaid “Direct Express” debit card.

The change means that new applicants for benefits should have their bank account information available — including their checking or savings account number and their bank’s routing and transit number, a nine-digit number typically found on the lower left-hand side of a paper check.

People who are already receiving benefits have about two more years — until March 1, 2013 — to switch. Help is available by going to, or calling a toll-free helpline at 1-800-333-1795.

The change that starts Sunday is part of a plan to shift to nonpaper payments, which are considered safer and more convenient for most people because they can’t be lost like paper checks. Roughly 80 percent of all federal benefit recipients already get payments electronically, so they’re not affected by the change.

The Treasury Department also said electronic payments were less expensive to process. A direct deposit costs 92 cents less than issuing payments via a paper check. That means the move to eliminate paper will save taxpayers an estimated $1 billion over the next decade, the department said.

David Certner, legislative policy director of the AARP, said the group was watching for any issues that arise with beneficiaries who don’t have bank accounts and so must use the debit card option. Roughly 4 million current Social Security recipients fall into that category, he said, but they’re not affected yet by the change.

It’s unclear yet just how many new applicants will be “unbanked.” Such recipients may not be familiar with using plastic cards and may need advice on how to use them to minimize any fees. For example, while it is possible to manage the cards in a no- or low-fee way, there are some instances in which charges apply. Cardholders get one free A.T.M. withdrawal each month, but after that they are charged 90 cents per withdrawal, according to And users are charged 75 cents if they want an account statement. “For us, the key issue is making sure people get the help they need,” Mr. Certner said.

Have you arranged for direct deposit of your Social Security benefits, or do you use a debit card? What has your experience been?

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