Understanding the Social Security Debit Card

Understanding the Social Security Debit Card

Ever since the Treasury Department stopped using paper checks for benefits in 2013, anyone who receives Social Security or other federal benefits must get their payments electronically.

When you apply for Social Security, you'll choose an electronic payment method. You have two options — have the money deposited into a bank or credit union account or use a Social Security debit card.

This prepaid debit card is officially called the Direct Express card. It's an option that's also available to recipients of other federal benefits, including Supplemental Security Income, veterans' benefits and civil service retirement, military federal retirement or railroad retirement payments.

How Do You Get a Social Security Debit Card?

It's easy to obtain a Direct Express card.You don't need a bank account to enroll, and there's no credit check or minimum balance required. To sign up, you can either call the enrollment center toll-free at 1 (800) 333-1795 or visit your local Social Security office.

Once you're enrolled, Direct Express will notify the Social Security Administration that you have a debit card account and will provide the information required to send your benefit payments to the account.

How Does the Card Work?

Once Social Security benefits are deposited into your Direct Express account each month, they are available to you on your payment day. Whenever you use the card, it debits the full amount of your purchase. As with other debit cards, the Social Security debit card differs from a credit card in that it doesn't provide a line of credit that allows you to pay later — you can only use the debit card if you have funds in your account.

How Can You Use the Card?

With your Social Security debit card, you can make purchases at stores that accept Debit MasterCard, pay bills, purchase money orders from the post office and get cash from ATMs or financial institutions that display the MasterCard acceptance mark. You get one free U.S. ATM withdrawal (including in the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands) with each deposit to your Direct Express card account.

Are There Fees Involved?

Most Direct Express card services are free. However, there are fees for some transactions, such as additional monthly ATM withdrawals, any purchase or ATM withdrawal outside the U.S. or the transfer of Direct Express funds to a personal bank account.

Here is a list of some possible fees:

  • $0.85 for each additional monthly withdrawal after the first free one

  • $0.85 per transaction for using the Direct Express Cash Access service available at Walmart stores

  • $0.75 per month to receive paper account statements by mail

  • $1.50 for each Social Security debit card fund transfer to a personal U.S. bank account

  • $4.00 card replacement fee after one free replacement each year

  • $13.50 for each expedited delivery of a replacement card

  • $3.00 plus 3% of the amount withdrawn for each ATM cash withdrawal outside the U.S.

  • 3% of the purchase amount for purchases at merchant locations outside the U.S.

Why Get a Social Security Debit Card?

Signing up offers several benefits:

  • No cost to sign up

  • No monthly fees or overdraft fees

  • No fee to use the card wherever Mastercard is accepted

  • No fee to get extra cashback with purchases

  • No fee to get cash from a bank or credit union

  • Automatic notice when money is deposited to your account or your balance is low

  • Free assistance by phone and online

  • Free DX mobile app

  • Account funds FDIC-insured up to the maximum legal limit

Other Important Information

The Direct Express account only accepts funds that the federal government pays to you. Although you can transfer account funds into a personal checking account, you cannot deposit other money into your Social Security debit account. Your spending with the debit card is not reported to credit bureaus and has no impact on your credit score.

With a debit card for Social Security, beneficiaries can enjoy the safety and convenience of direct deposit regardless of whether they have a personal bank or credit union account.

Sonya Stinson AuthorThumbnail

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