Millions of Americans will no longer be able to get their Social Security retirement and disability checks by mail, under a new timetable.
Those already receiving Social Security will have until March 1, 2013, to make the switch to direct deposit or a debit card. New recipients of Social Security benefits will have to accept paperless payment sooner - as of May 1, 2011.
The government has decided, however, to allow people who are 90 and over and still getting Social Security benefit checks, to continue to receive their paper checks. The government estimates there are 275,000 people who fall into this category.
For people who do not have a bank account, Social Security has an option that allows them to use a Direct Express debit MasterCard. More than 1.5 million people have obtained these cards since they were first issued in 2008.
In addition to the automatic waiver from electronic payments for those 90 and over, people living in remote areas who might have trouble getting to a bank can also petition for a waiver from the new rules. Social Security expects fewer than 1 percent of current benefit recipients will petition for a waiver.
Social Security Commissioner Michael J. Astrue said that people should not wait until the deadlines to make the switch to electronic payments. "Switching now eliminates the risks of lost and stolen checks and provides immediate access to your money on payment day," Astrue said.
To help with the switchover for those still getting paper checks, the government has created a website,
and a toll-free phone number, 1-800-333-1795, that people can call for assistance.