Anyone receiving federal benefits must switch to electronic payments by March 1

Monday, December 3, 2012
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If you don't already receive your Social Security checks electronically, now is the time to make the change. The federal government is phasing out paper checks, and anyone who receives Social Security, veterans benefits, railroad pensions and federal disability payments will need to switch to direct deposit by March 1. The only exceptions are for beneficiaries ages 90 and older, and for some people living in extremely remote areas.

According to the U.S. Department of the Treasury, more than 90 percent of beneficiaries already receive their payments electronically -- but switching the remainder will save the government about $120 million per year, and Social Security will save $1 billion over the next decade. The department also emphasizes that electronic payments are faster and safer, as hundreds of thousands of paper federal benefit checks are lost or stolen each year.

You have two options for switching to electronic payments: direct deposit or a debit card. With the first option, your money will be deposited directly into the bank account or credit union of your choice. With the debit card option, you'll receive a special Direct Express Debit MasterCard, a prepaid debit card issued by the treasury, onto which your benefits will automatically be deposited each month. You can use the card like any other debit card -- at the grocery store, to pay bills, at the ATM -- and you can check your balance online, on the phone or at an ATM. The downside here is that you get one free ATM withdrawal per month, but additional withdrawals will cost 90 cents each.

To make the switch, visit or call 800-333-1795; or visit your bank or federal benefit agency office. If you don't make the change yourself by March 1, the government will automatically send you a Direct Express card in the mail.

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