Social Security deadline arrives for switching to direct deposit

Published: Friday, Mar. 1, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 6B
Last Modified: Sunday, Mar. 3, 2013 - 2:55 pm

For millions of seniors getting a monthly Social Security check in the mail, time's up.

Today is the U.S. Treasury's mandatory deadline for switching over to electronic payments for Social Security and other federal benefits.

That means, unless you're over age 90, the days of a monthly paper check in the mail are coming to an end.

"We are getting lots of calls. People are resigned that they need to switch and they're calling to do so," said Walt Henderson, director of the U.S. Treasury's Go Direct program.

This week, he said, Go Direct's call center has been getting up to 45,000 calls a day.

Since the mandatory switch was announced in April 2011, millions of seniors – some reluctantly – have been signing up for electronic payments, either directly deposited into a bank account or onto a Direct Expressdebit card.

About 94.3 percent of all Social Security and SSI recipients are getting paperless payments, according to Henderson. As of this week, that still leaves roughly 4.25 million seniors who haven't signed up but Henderson said he's hopeful of getting "close to 100 percent" compliance.

"All we're doing is changing the delivery," said Henderson. "We're not requiring you to get on the Internet or buy a computer. We're putting an electronic deposit into your bank account. Beyond that, we're not changing anything."

Anyone who turned 90 as of May 1, 2011, isn't required to sign up for electronic payments.

The paper-free move is partly to address the wave of baby boomers who are retiring and entering their Social Security years. Since 2011, all new applicants for federal benefits are required to choose an electronic payment method.

For Nick Avdis, it's taken two trips to a local Social Security office to get his parents, Spero and Georgia Avdis, signed up for direct deposit.

The couple, Greek immigrants who were Natomas sheep ranchers for decades, were reluctant to give up their monthly mailed checks but "knew they didn't have a choice."

There was a slight snafu. The Social Security office told the couple that their first electronic payments would start in March. In February, his monthly check arrived by paper but hers did not.

Alarmed, they drove to the Social Security office, where they discovered that her check had already been deposited into her bank account, a month ahead of schedule.

For those who forgot – or refused – to sign up for electronic payments, the government is not going to stop issuing paper checks. For many seniors, the monthly payments are a lifeline, and Treasury officials don't want to abruptly yank them in their eagerness to convert to paperless payments.

But you will be hearing – by mail – from U.S. Treasury officials, offering help with the mandatory signup.

The U.S. Treasury says electronic payments are safer, easier and a whole lot cheaper. The conversion is estimated to save $1 billion in printing, mailing and lost-check costs over 10 years.

It's free to sign up for electronic payments, either online at or by calling (800) 333-1795. Through Saturday, the Go Direct toll-free number will be staffed from 5 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Seniors can also sign up at their bank, credit union or local Social Security office.

For Avdis, "I'm keeping my fingers crossed that next month both my parents will get their checks (electronically deposited)."

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Claudia Buck

Sacramento Bee Job listing powered by
Quick Job Search
Sacramento Bee Jobs »
Used Cars
Dealer and private-party ads


Price Range:
Search within:
miles of ZIP

Advanced Search | 1982 & Older