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The End of Social Security Checks

What You Should Know About Your Social Security Benefits

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U.S Treasury Facility Prints Social Security Checks
William Thomas Cain/Stringer/Getty Images News/Getty Images
Updated May 16, 2014

The U.S. Department of Treasury began phasing out paper Social Security checks and other federal benefit checks on May 1, 2011. It required anyone applying for Social Security checks and other federal benefits on and after that date to receive their payments electronically.

See also: Applying for Social Security Benefits

Those who began receiving Social Security checks before May of 2011 have until March 1, 2013, to sign up for electronic payments, the Treasury Department announced. Those who don't sign up to have their Social Security checks direct-deposited by that date would receive their benefits through the Direct Express card program.

"Getting your Social Security or Supplemental Security Income payment by direct deposit or Direct Express is safer and more reliable," Michael J. Astrue, the commissioner of Social Security, said in announcing the change.

Who's Impacted by End of Paper Checks

The change applied to Social Security, Supplemental Security Income, Veterans Affairs benefits, and anyone who receives benefits from the Railroad Retirement Board, Office of Personnel Management and Department of Labor (Black Lung).

"You don't have to worry about your check being lost or stolen and your money is available immediately on your payment date," Astrue said. "There is no need to wait for the mail to arrive."

In 2010, more than 540,000 Social Security and Supplemental Security Income paper checks were reported lost or stolen and had to be replaced, the Treasury Department said.

Savings from End of Paper Checks

Phasing out paper Social Security checks entirely is expected to save taxpayers about $120 million every year, or more than $1 billion over 10 years. Government officials also pointed out that eliminating paper Social Security checks will "provide positive benefits to the environment, saving 12 million pounds of paper in the first five years alone."

"More than 18 million baby boomers are expected to reach retirement age during the next five years, with 10,000 people a day becoming eligible for Social Security benefits," said Treasurer Rosie Rios.

"It costs 92 cents more to issue a payment by paper check than by direct deposit. We are retiring the Social Security paper check option in favor of electronic payments because it is the right thing to do for benefit recipients and American taxpayers alike."

What You Need to Do Now

If you are applying for new benefits, you are now required to choose an electronic payment method, whether it's direct deposit of your Social Security check or other federal benefit into a bank or credit union account.

When you apply for your Social Security check or other federal benefit, you will need:

  • Your financial institution's routing transit number, often found on a personal check;
  • The account type, checking or savings;
  • And the account number, often found on a personal check.

You can also choose to receive your Social Security check on a prepaid debit card or Direct Express Debit MasterCard card.

What You Need to Do By 2013

If you currently get your Social Security check or other federal benefit payment on paper, you must switch to electronic payments before March 1, 2013.

You can switch from paper checks to direct deposit at www.GoDirect.org, by calling the U.S. Treasury Electronic Payment Solution Center's toll-free helpline at (800) 333-1795, or by speaking with a bank or credit union representative.

Anyone already receiving federal benefit payments electronically will continue to receive their money as usual on their payment day. No action is required.

About Paper Social Security Checks

The first monthly Social Security check was received by Ida Mae Fuller on Jan. 31, 1940, according to the Treasury Department. Since then about 165 million people have received Social Security benefits.

The movement toward electronic payments has been steadily increasing, the Treasury Department said. By May of 2011, electronic payments made up more than three-quarters of all noncash payments nationwide.

There were 5.7 billion fewer checks written in 2009 than in 2006, a decline of 6.1 percent per year - while electronic payments grew 9.3 percent during that same period. Among federal benefit recipients, about eight in 10 receive their Social Security check or other federal benefit payment electronically, according to the Treasury Department.

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