Like it or not, many seniors have a few more jobs to do when it comes to Social Security - including signing up for direct deposit or hitting the computer.
Still collecting a paper Social Security check? Get ready to make a change soon.
The paper check is supposed to go away by March. People still receiving checks can sign up for direct deposit or a Direct Express Debit card.
Roughly 5 million people nationwide continue to receive paper checks.
States with the highest numbers of paper checks include California, New York, Texas, Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and North Carolina.
WHAT TO DO: How to sign up for direct deposit or debit card
There may be a little wiggle room, but Social Security would like people to willingly give up those paper checks.
Walt Henderson, director of the electronic funds transfer strategy division for the U.S. Treasury, said seniors who are receiving paper checks and don't make a switch by March could receive letters offering assistance in changing to direct deposit or the debit card.
"We will not interrupt payments if a person does not comply, nor will we switch a payment method automatically," Henderson said.
Henderson noted that 11 million paper checks were sent out each month as of two years ago, so the number has already been cut by more than half.
Sure, many older people love going to the bank. But before anyone starts grumbling, it's good to know that seniors born on or before May 1, 1921, can still receive that paper check if they want it.
Options for different needs
Even so, many seniors say direct deposit is the way to go.
The Direct Express Debit card is designed for people who do not have bank accounts - or what some call the unbanked.
The Direct Express card has been used by more than 3 million people since it was introduced in June 2008. About two-thirds of those people did not have bank accounts when they signed up for the card.
How do you make a switch? Call 800-333-1795 or visit www.GoDirect.org. Or if you have an account at a bank or credit union, go there to sign up for direct deposit.
Some consumers could save $5 a month or more in checking fees - that's $60 or more a year - if they sign up for direct deposit for Social Security checks.
The GoDirect.org site shows a countdown clock for how many days, hours, minutes and seconds are left for paper checks.
Who is exempt?
Some exceptions exist to still receive a paper check but you'd need to request a waiver in those cases, say if Social Security recipients live in remote areas without sufficient banking infrastructure or if electronic payments would impose a hardship due to a mental impairment. Waiver applications can be requested by calling 800-333-1795.
The Treasury Department said about 93% of Social Security and SSI payments are being made electronically nationwide. If you're retiring or applying for Social Security now, you receive benefits electronically. No checks.
The estimate is that converting the remaining paper checks to electronic payments will save taxpayers $1 billion over 10 years.
Online services galore
Social Security cut office hours but expanded online services. Social Security offices close at noon every Wednesday, because of cutbacks. Offices also are closing 30 minutes earlier on other weekdays and are now open 9 a.m.-3 p.m.
But many services, including applying for benefits, can be done online at www.ssa.gov.
Social Security is promoting what's called a "my Social Security" online account to cover some services, too. It's now possible to get an official benefit verification letter instantly if you create an online account. An official benefit verification letter can offer proof of income when someone applies for a loan or mortgage. It also can offer proof of income when applying for assisted housing and state or local benefits.
Social Security stopped mailing all annual paper statements to update those still working about their estimated future benefits back in October because of the budget situation, according to Doug Nguyen, deputy regional communications director for the Social Security Administration in Chicago.
But it's possible to get statements online.
"Given our significantly reduced funding, we have to find innovative ways to continue to meet the needs of the American people without compromising service," Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, said in a statement.
The online system is a way to change an address and start or change direct deposit information, too. It is possible to apply for benefits online, find out if you qualify for benefits, and block online access if you've been a victim of identity theft or domestic violence.
More tips on Social Security
• If you opt for a Direct Express Debit card, pay attention to the fees. One free ATM withdrawal is allowed each month on the Direct Express Debit MasterCard. Additional ATM withdrawals are 90 cents. To get one free ATM withdrawal, consumers must go to ATMs in the network. That network includes ATMs at Comerica Bank, Charter One, PNC Bank, Privileged Status, Alliance One, the MasterCard ATM Alliance and MoneyPass.
• Plenty of bank names aren't in the network. And it could cost up to $3 or so a pop to get access to your Social Security money at some ATMs if you go out of the network. Many ATMs in the network are at drugstores and elsewhere. See www.usdirectexpress.com to learn about the fees.
• Plus, consumers can use the card for purchases and get cash back for free at many stores.
• The temporary payroll tax cut involving Social Security taxes ended last year. An employee's contribution into Social Security has gone back to 6.2% this year from 4.2% in 2011 and 2012.
• Social Security taxes will apply to up to $113,700 of wages this year. The limit had been $110,100 of wages in 2012.
• Social Security beneficiaries received a 1.7% boost in payments beginning in January. The cost-of-living adjustment pushed the estimated average Social Security retirement benefit to $1,261 a month in January from $1,240 a month.
Contact Susan Tompor: 313-222-8876 or email@example.com
Susan Tompor, USA TODAY