Article Series

Electronic Payments: The Best (and soon only) way to get your Benefits

Article submitted by Mike Baksa, Lead Public Affairs Specialist, Social Security Administration in Denver Regional Communications Office. For more information visit www.socialsecurity.gov.

Chances are, if you receive Social Security benefits, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), or any federal payment, you receive it electronically. More than 90 percent of people getting monthly Social Security benefits already receive electronic payments. If you don’t yet, that’s about to change.

There is a U.S. Department of Treasury rule that does away with paper checks for most federal benefit and non-tax payments by March 1, 2013. With a few exceptions, this mandate includes Social Security, SSI, Veterans Affairs, Railroad Retirement Board, Office of Personnel Management benefits, and other non-tax payments.

People required to switch have the option of Direct Deposit to a bank or credit union account or they can have their monthly payment directed into a Direct ExpressÒ debit card account (Treasury’s debit card program). Please visit www.godirect.org to learn more.

So, why the push for electronic payments instead of paper checks received in the mail? There’s a list of reasons an electronic payment is better than an old-fashioned paper check.

  • It’s safer: no risk of checks being lost or stolen;
  • It’s easy and reliable: no need to wait for the mail or go to the bank to cash a check;
  • It saves taxpayers money: no cost for postage and paper and printing; Treasury estimates this will save taxpayers $1 billion over 10 years; and
  • It’s good for the environment: it saves paper and eliminates the need for physical transportation.

When you use Direct Deposit, you can rest assured that your money is safe. Since your money goes directly into the bank in the form of an electronic transfer, there's no risk of a check being lost or stolen. In fact, since 1976 when Direct Deposit first became available to Social Security beneficiaries, not one payment has ever been lost. With Direct Deposit, you no longer have to stand in line to cash your check when it arrives. Your money goes directly into your account. You don't have to leave your house in bad weather or worry if you're on vacation or away from home. You don't have to pay any fees to cash your checks. Your money is in your account ready to use when business opens the day you receive your check. It's easy to receive your benefit by Direct Deposit. You can sign up at your bank, savings and loan or credit union, or you can call Social Security. Then, just relax. Your benefit will go automatically into your account every month. And you'll have more time to do the things you enjoy!

Here are some questions people ask about Direct Deposit

Question: When I sign up for Direct Deposit, how long does it take before my money is in my account?

Answer: When you sign up for Direct Deposit, you can expect your benefit in your account within 30 to 60 days. We'll send you a letter telling you when to expect your benefit to be in your bank account.

Question: How do I know when my money is in my account so I can pay my bills?

Answer: Your money is deposited on the day you're scheduled to receive your benefit. For example, if you usually receive your benefit on the third of the month, your money is available to you at the opening of the business day on the third. You can check with your bank to be sure that your money is in your account.

Question: When can I use my money?

Answer: Your money is available for use as soon as the bank deposits it into your account. You can write checks, pay bills, withdraw money or put some into savings. Anything you usually do with your money now, you can also do with direct deposit.

Question: If I get SSI benefits by Direct Deposit, how do I get proof of my benefit amount so I can apply for the energy assistance program?

Answer: If you are a Social Security or SSI beneficiary using Direct Deposit, you'll receive a notice in December showing your benefit amount that includes any annual cost-of-living increase that may go into effect in January. You can use this notice when you need proof of your benefit amount for the energy assistance program, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), rent subsidies, bank loans or other business. If you don't receive your benefit by Direct Deposit, call Social Security's toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778), for proof of your benefit amount.

Question: After I sign up for Direct Deposit, do I have to stay with the same bank?

Answer: No, you can use Direct Deposit at any federally insured bank, savings and loan or credit union. If you move your account, call Social Security's toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778), and a Social Security representative will change your Direct Deposit information. Open the new account and make sure your deposits are going to the new bank, savings and loan or credit union before you close the old account.

On the other hand, the Direct Express® card is a debit card you can use to access your benefits. And you don't need a bank account. With the Direct Express® card program, we deposit your federal benefit payment directly into your card account. Your monthly benefits will be available on your payment day—on time, every time. You can use the card to make purchases, pay bills or get cash at thousands of locations.

And most transactions are free. The Direct Express® card is both safer and more convenient than paper checks. Anyone receiving Social Security or Supplemental Security Income payments can enroll. No more waiting for the mail or worrying about lost or stolen checks. It’s quick and easy to sign up to receive benefits electronically with the Direct Express® card. Call the Treasury Electronic Payment Solution Contact Center at 1-800-333-1795. Sign up online at www.godirect.org. Also, Social Security can help you sign up.

If you still get your check in the mail, don’t wait for the new rule to go into effect next year— sign up for electronic payments now. Please visit www.godirect.org today and begin getting your Social Security and SSI payments the safe, easy, reliable way — electronically.

More about the Author:

Mike Baksa is the Lead Public Affairs Specialist for Social Security Administration in Denver Regional Communications Office. For more information about Social Security Administration visit www.socialsecurity.gov.

Posted October 2012 on www.SeniorsResourceGuide.com