The End of Social Security Paper Checks

What You Should Know About Your Social Security Benefits

Social Security worker holding up a benefit check
U.S Treasury Facility Prints Social Security Checks. William Thomas Cain / Getty Images

Since 1935, qualified Americans had eagerly waited for their monthly Social Security benefit checks to appear in their mailboxes. However, that happy-day mailbox ritual ended on May 1, 2011, when the U.S. Department of Treasury began phasing out the use of paper checks for payment of Social Security, Supplemental Security Income, VA, or other federal benefits. Instead, it required anyone applying for Social Security and other federal benefits on and after that date to receive their payments electronically.

People who had been receiving paper benefits checks before May of 2011 were given until March 1, 2013, to sign up for electronic payments. Those who failed to arrange to have their Social Security and other federal benefits direct-deposited to their banks by that date were automatically paid through the Treasury Department’s Direct Express prepaid debit card program.

"Getting your Social Security or Supplemental Security Income payment by direct deposit or Direct Express is safer and more reliable," then Social Security Commissioner Michael J. Astrue said in announcing the change.

Who Was Impacted by End of Paper Checks

The change applied to Social Security, Supplemental Security Income, Veterans Affairs benefits, and anyone who receives benefits from the Railroad Retirement Board, Office of Personnel Management, and Department of Labor (Black Lung).

"You don't have to worry about your check being lost or stolen and your money is available immediately on your payment date," Astrue said. "There is no need to wait for the mail to arrive."

In 2010, more than 540,000 Social Security and Supplemental Security Income paper checks were reported lost or stolen and had to be replaced, the Treasury Department said.

Savings from End of Paper Checks

The Treasury Department anticipated that the elimination of paper Social Security checks entirely would save taxpayers about $120 million every year, or more than $1 billion over 10 years. Government officials also pointed out that eliminating paper Social Security checks would “provide positive benefits to the environment, saving 12 million pounds of paper in the first five years alone.”

"More than 18 million baby boomers are expected to reach retirement age during the next five years, with 10,000 people a day becoming eligible for Social Security benefits," said then U.S. Treasurer Rosie Rios.

"It costs 92 cents more to issue a payment by paper check than by direct deposit. We are retiring the Social Security paper check option in favor of electronic payments because it is the right thing to do for benefit recipients and American taxpayers alike."

If You Are Applying for Benefits Now

If you are applying for new benefits, you are now required to choose an electronic payment method, whether it's a direct deposit of your Social Security check or other federal benefits into a bank or credit union account.

When you apply for your Social Security check or other federal benefits, you will need:

  • Your financial institution's routing transit number often found on a personal check;
  • The account type, checking or savings;
  • And the account number often found on a personal check.

You can also choose to receive your Social Security check on a prepaid debit card or Direct Express Debit MasterCard card.

Brief History of Paper Social Security Checks

The first monthly Social Security check was received by Ida Mae Fuller on Jan. 31, 1940, according to the Treasury Department. Since then about 165 million people have received Social Security benefits.

The movement toward electronic payments has been steadily increasing, the Treasury Department said. By May of 2011, electronic payments made up more than three-quarters of all noncash payments nationwide.

There were 5.7 billion fewer checks written in 2009 than in 2006, a decline of 6.1 percent per year - while electronic payments grew 9.3 percent during that same period. Among federal benefit recipients, about eight in 10 receive their Social Security check or other federal benefit payment electronically, according to the Treasury Department.

What About Social Security Statements? 

On January 9, 2017, the Social Security Administration also stopped mailing annual Social Security Statements to all workers under age 60.

The Social Security Statement shows the worker’s expected monthly Social Security benefits based on their current and potential future income. Paper statements are still mailed only to workers age 60 and older three months before their birthday if they don’t receive Social Security benefits and don’t yet have a “my Social Security” account. Workers over age 60 will stop receiving their statements by mail once they set up their “my Social Security” account.

Workers under age 60 can now view their personal Social Security Statement online only by using their “my Social Security” account. Using a “my Social Security” account, workers of all ages can view their Social Security Statement online at any time.

With a free and very secure “my Social Security” account, workers of all ages, retired or not, can view online their personalized estimates of future benefits based on their real earnings, see their latest Statement, and review their earnings history. In addition, “my Social Security” can be used to request a replacement Social Security Card or check the status of an application, anytime. A “my Social Security” is free, secure, and easy to create at: https://www.ssa.gov/myaccount/