Does Social Security Still Mail Paper Checks?

In this article...
  • The Social Security Administration offers electronic payments for recipients of benefits. Paper checks are no longer mailed out as a method of payment.

If you are a recent applicant for Social Security disability or retirement benefits, you may be wondering if you can have your benefit check mailed directly to you. The short and simple answer is no. The Social Security Administration (SSA) began phasing out the mailing of paper checks in 2011, and since March 1, 2013, electronic payments have been the required way for most people to receive their federal benefit payments.

Are Paper Checks Ever Available Now?

According to federal law, Social Security benefits and Supplemental Security Income benefits must be paid electronically. However, those who were receiving paper checks previous to the new law may still be receiving their benefits in this way. Financial site The Motley Fool indicated that 549,818 people were still receiving paper benefit checks as of August 2020. For new applicants for Social Security benefits, however, paper checks are definitely a thing of the past.

How Are Benefits Paid?

Social Security disability and retirement benefits can be paid to recipients in one of two methods:

  • Direct deposit into an existing bank account is the most popular way to receive benefit payments from the SSA. This ensures that payments are received on time and that they are safely deposited into your bank account automatically. You will need to provide your bank's routing transit number, your account number and the type of account to the SSA to set up direct deposit of your benefits to your bank. Direct deposit arrangements eliminate worries that checks might be stolen from mailboxes or otherwise lost on their way to you.

  • The Direct Express® Debit MasterCard® is a prepaid debit card designed to let the SSA deposit your benefit payments directly. The funds transferred to your account can be used to pay bills, obtain cash or make necessary purchases in the same way as a bank debit card. For those who do not have an existing bank account, the Direct Express Debit MasterCard is a safe, practical alternative.

The Benefits of Direct Deposit

If you choose direct deposit for your Social Security benefits, your benefits will be deposited to your account on a reliable, consistent schedule. The SSA does not impose any limits on how you can spend your benefits after they are deposited into your bank. The only fees associated with this method of payment are those assessed by your specific banking institution.

How the Direct Express Debit Card Works

The Direct Express Debit MasterCard was designed specifically to meet the needs of Social Security recipients. Some fees are associated with the use of this card, however:

  • You will receive one free ATM withdrawal for every benefit payment you receive on the debit card. Subsequent ATM withdrawals, however, carry a fee of 85 cents each.
  • Transferring funds from your debit card to another bank account carries a fee of $1.50 for each transaction.
  • If you choose to receive paper statements for your debit card account, you will be charged 75 cents per month.

You can use your debit card in much the same way as a credit card. If you purchase gasoline, however, you will not be able to pay at the pump and will be required to go inside the station to pay for your purchase.

You can enroll in direct deposit or request a Direct Express debit card online through the Social Security website. Either way, you'll enjoy the benefits of added convenience, increased reliability and enhanced security for your federal benefit payments from Social Security and other agencies.