Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Why does the U.S. Department of the Treasury require all-electronic benefit payments?
  2. How do I know if this requirement applies to me?
  3. What are electronic payments? What is direct deposit?
  4. Can federal benefit recipients still switch to electronic payments even though the deadline has passed?
  5. How do people sign up for or switch to electronic payments of their federal benefits?
  6. Is there an option for federal benefit check recipients who don't have a bank account?
  7. What is the Direct Express® Debit MasterCard® card and how does it work?
  8. What happens if people do not sign up for an electronic payment option?
  9. Are there exceptions to Treasury’s requirement?
  10. What is the Go Direct® campaign?
  11. Will the Treasury Department stop mailing federal benefit payment by paper check and send beneficiaries the Direct Express® Debit MasterCard® card if they have not switched to electronic payments?
  12. Does this rule apply to representative payees or to people who live in nursing homes or assisted living facilities?
  13. Why did I get a letter from the U.S. Department of the Treasury?
  14. Does the electronic payments requirement include tax refunds?
  15. Who should an organization contact if their question is not addressed on this website?

 


1. Why does the U.S. Department of the Treasury require all-electronic benefit payments?

Treasury has delivered federal benefit payments electronically for over 35 years and now requires that all beneficiaries choose an electronic payment option to receive their benefits. Electronic payments have become almost universally accepted and are standard across all sectors of the economy. In addition, electronic payments have become the norm rather than the exception of how people expect to receive their payments.

The Treasury Department published a final rule in December 2010 to gradually phase out paper checks for federal benefit payments. Treasury has worked to become more efficient and trim its budget, and the switch to all-electronic payments will save Treasury and American taxpayers $1 billion over 10 years.

In addition, there are many advantages to switching to electronic payments. Watch this video to learn more.

  • Safer, Easier
    Electronic payments provide a safer, more convenient and cost-effective way for people to get their federal benefits than paper checks. In fact, beneficiaries are 125 times more likely to have a problem with a paper check than with an electronic payment.
  • More Convenient
    When people get payments electronically, they don't need to visit a financial institution to cash or deposit a check to gain access to their money. This is particularly important to people who are elderly or disabled, or who lack access to transportation.

    No bank account or credit check is required for the Direct Express® Debit MasterCard® card. There are no fees to sign up for the card, no monthly fees or overdraft fees. Simply use the card to pay for everyday purchases and avoid the need to cash a check or carry large amounts of cash. Or, if you simply prefer a prepaid debit card, the Direct Express® card is a safe, no or low-cost electronic payment option.
  • Taxpayer Savings
    This measure also provides significant savings to American taxpayers who will no longer incur the $120 million price tag associated with paper checks – a number that would have ballooned as tens of millions of baby boomers begin to retire.

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2. How do I know if this requirement applies to me?

The Treasury Department published a final rule in December 2010 to gradually phase out paper checks for federal benefit payments. As of March 1, 2013, if you receive or are applying for these federal benefits, you are required by law to receive payments through direct deposit to your bank or credit union account or to a Direct Express® Debit MasterCard® card:

  • Social Security                
  • Supplemental Security Income
  • Veterans Affairs
  • Railroad Retirement Board
  • Office of Personnel Management
  • Department of Labor (Black Lung)

If you are currently receiving your payments by paper check, you are out of compliance and must switch to an electronic payment option. If you are receiving a payment on behalf of someone else (Representative Payee), please see Does this rule apply to representative payees or to people who live in nursing homes?

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3. What are electronic payments? What is direct deposit?

Electronic payments, which allow for the exchange of funds through paperless methods, are safer, easier and more reliable than paper checks. Direct deposit is the electronic transfer of a payment from a company or organization into an individual's checking or savings account. When you get your federal benefit payment electronically, the U.S. Department of the Treasury sends an electronic message to your bank or credit union or Direct Express® Debit MasterCard® card account crediting your account with the exact amount of your benefit. The difference is, your check isn’t printed or mailed. The government and businesses use direct deposit to transfer millions of dollars every day. Your money is safe with direct deposit. To learn more about direct deposit, you can talk to your local bank or credit union. Learn more about the Direct Express® card.

In addition, the Go Direct® campaign has developed several videos that complement the information provided above, such as information on how direct deposit and the Direct Express® card work:

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4. Can federal benefit recipients still switch to electronic payments even though the deadline has passed?

Yes. Although the Treasury Department’s deadline to comply with the all-electronic payment requirement has passed, people who receive paper federal benefit checks can still comply with the law and switch to an electronic payment option.

People can sign up for direct deposit or the Direct Express® Debit MasterCard® card by contacting the U.S. Treasury Electronic Payment Solution Center at (800) 333-1795. You may also sign up for direct deposit online or at your local bank or credit union.

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5. How do people sign up for or switch to electronic payments of their federal benefits?

To get benefit payments by direct deposit into an existing financial institution account, check recipients will want to have the following information about their own bank or credit union account ready when they call:

  • A copy of your most recent federal benefit check
  • Account type: checking or savings
  • Account number
  • Financial institution’s routing number

Image of Check

If the beneficiary has a bank or credit union account, he or she should sign up for direct deposit online, or call (800) 333-1795, or visit a local bank/credit union branch or federal benefit agency office.

If the beneficiary prefers a prepaid debit card or doesn’t have a bank account, he/she can sign up for the Direct Express® Debit MasterCard® card by calling the U.S. Treasury Electronic Payment Solution Center toll-free at (800) 333-1795 or by contacting his or her local federal benefit agency office. No bank account is required to sign up for the card.

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6. Is there an option for federal benefit check recipients who don't have a bank account?

Yes. The Direct Express® Debit MasterCard® card is a safe, no or low-cost electronic alternative. No bank or credit union account or credit check is required to enroll. Cardholders can make purchases, pay bills and get cash. This also is an option for those who prefer a prepaid debit card recommended by the U.S. Department of the Treasury. Additional information about the Direct Express® card is available at www.USDirectExpress.com.

Watch a video about the Direct Express® card.

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7. What is the Direct Express® Debit MasterCard® card and how does it work?

The Treasury-recommended Direct Express® card is a prepaid debit card payment option for federal benefit recipients who don’t have a bank or credit union account. Cardholders can make purchases at stores that accept Debit MasterCard®, pay bills, purchase money orders from the U.S. Post Office and get cash from an ATM or financial institution that displays the MasterCard logo. No bank account or credit check is required to enroll. There are no sign-up fees or monthly account fees. Many other card services are free. Additional information about the Direct Express card is available at www.USDirectExpress.com.

When you sign up to receive your Social Security, Supplemental Security Income, VA  or other federal benefits via the Direct Express card, your money will be automatically deposited to your Direct Express card account on payment date.

Watch a video that explains how to use the card.

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8. What happens if people do not sign up for an electronic payment option?

People who have not signed up by March 1, 2013, are out of compliance with the law. Treasury will contact them directly and may send them a Direct Express® Debit MasterCard® card.

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9. Are there exceptions to Treasury’s requirement?

The Treasury Department will grant exceptions to the rule only in rare circumstances.

Check recipients living in remote areas without sufficient banking infrastructure may apply for a waiver, as well as check recipients for whom electronic payments would impose a hardship due to a mental impairment. Automatic waivers are granted to people born on or before May 1, 1921, and people who qualify for this waiver do not need to submit an application.

For more information or to request a waiver, call 855-290-1545. You may also print and fill out a waiver form and return it to the address on the form. Waiver Form

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10. What is the Go Direct® campaign?

The Go Direct campaign was initiated by Treasury and the Federal Reserve Banks in 2004 to encourage federal benefit check recipients to switch to direct deposit. The campaign became a public education effort in 2010 with the posting of 31 CFR Part 208, Treasury’s regulation that required electronic federal benefits.  While the campaign is no longer actively working to inform Americans about the requirement, this website remains a resource operated by Treasury’s Financial Management Service.

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11. Will the Treasury Department stop mailing federal benefit payment by paper check and send beneficiaries the Direct Express® Debit MasterCard® cardif they have not switched to electronic payments?

The Treasury Department has no plans to interrupt the payment of federal benefits and at this time, check payments will continue after the March 1, 2013, deadline. The Treasury will continue to contact check recipients who are not in compliance with the law and may send beneficiaries a Direct Express® card.

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12. Does this rule apply to representative payees or to people who live in nursing homes or assisted living facilities?

If you care for someone who gets federal benefit payments by paper check or if you receive a check on behalf of someone else, the U.S. Department of the Treasury requires that these payments be switched to an electronic option.

Representative payees can sign up for direct deposit or the Direct Express® Debit MasterCard® card by calling the U.S. Treasury Electronic Payment Solution Center at (800) 333-1795 Monday-Friday 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET. For direct deposit, recipients can also switch online at www.GoDirect.org or at their bank or credit union. Representative payees should also be aware of the following:

  • A representative payee for a person born before May 1, 1921, must convert the paper check payment to an electronic payment option. The rule exception granted for those born before May 1, 1921, does not apply to people with a representative payee.
     
  • Nursing homes and assisted living facilities that serve as the representative payee for residents also must switch check payments to electronic payments. Find additional information on the Nursing Facilities page of GoDirect.org.
     
  • For more information about representative payee responsibilities, consult the appropriate federal benefit agency.

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13. Why did I get a letter from the U.S. Department of the Treasury?

Federal benefit recipients who still receive payments by paper check are out of compliance with the law. The Treasury Department will contact check recipients directly by mail to ensure people comply with the law.

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14. Does the electronic payments requirement include tax refunds?

No, tax refund payments are not affected by this requirement. The Direct Express® Debit MasterCard® card does not accept tax refund payments at this time. Taxpayers cannot currently sign up for direct deposit of their tax refund payments through the Go Direct® campaign.

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15. Who should an organization contact if their question is not addressed on this website?

An organization can submit its question to EFTmail@fms.treas.gov.

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