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Social Security Need-to-Know Housekeeping

Nothing about politics today or even about the politicians who want to kill Social Security. Just a couple of things you definitely need to know.

Although we've mentioned this before, it has been awhile and time is getting short as Nancy Leitz, who contributes wonderful stories at The Elder Storytelling Place, reminded me.

ATTENTION: On 1 March this year – less than two months from now - Social Security benefit checks go completely digital. No more paper checks via snailmail.

This also applies to SSI and Veterans Administration compensation and pension benefits. Here are your new choices:

  1. Direct bank deposit
  2. Direct Express Debit MasterCard

So before 1 March, you must make a choice and make arrangements with the Social Security Administration to receive your monthly benefit.

You can call the main Social Security office on a secure line: 800.772.1213 (TTY 800.325.0778) and they will help you do this.

Or, you can fill out this online form [pdf] at the Social Security website, print it and either mail it or take it to your local Social Security office.

A similar assistance service is available through the Treasury Department's GoDirect website, or telephone them at 800.333.1795. (Sorry, I don't have a TTY number for them.)

If you are still receiving paper checks, do this now so there will be no interruption in your monthly benefit.

UPDATE: There are several possible exemptions from the requirement of direct deposit: if a Social Security beneficiary lives in a rural area, is age 90 or older or suffers from a mental illness that makes them incapable of managing a bank account.

Salem, Oregon elderlaw attorney John Gear emailed to explain a little-known way direct deposit can help low-income elders in some locations:

"In Oregon, and presumably some other states as well, there is one advantage to getting benefits by direct deposit: recipients of certain payments (like Social Security) can file a preemptive exemption from garnishment form with their bank/credit union that will protect the money from garnishment.

"This is so that, unless it's a government garnishment, the bank/credit union will not satisfy garnishment writs served on them by ordinary creditors from the account where the direct deposits land (if there is an exemption filed for that account)...

"I believe this was a concession obtained on behalf of consumers by consumer attorney organizations who were appalled by U.S. government's unthinking decision to force all elders to go on direct deposit because it would mean that many elders would starve, as creditors and bottom feeding debt collectors with piles of old judgments (bought for pennies on the dollar) would come out of the woodwork and start mass computerized garnishment binges, which many elders are very poorly equipped to challenge...

"I advise all my clients on the economic margins to have a separate account at a credit union to receive all such payments, file the exemption form for that account, and then never put any other money (not exempt from garnishment) in that account. That way, there's never any doubt that the only money in there is legally exempt from garnishment by consumer debt collectors."

On Monday, the Social Security Administration announced the launch of its expanded My Social Security Account service for working people 18 and older and current benefit recipients. Here is an explanation from the announcement:

”More than 60 million Social Security beneficiaries and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients can now access their benefit verification letter, payment history, and earnings record instantly using their online account. Social Security beneficiaries also can change their address and start or change direct deposit information online.”

Although this is a good idea on its face, there is another reason for the upgraded website – an example of what happens when Congress cuts program funding:

“'Given our significantly reduced funding, we have to find innovative ways to continue to meet the needs of the American people without compromising service,' said Commissioner [Michael J.] Astrue. 'These new enhancements will allow us to provide faster service to more people in more places.'”

You may have noticed that for the same reason, a good number of Social Security offices around the nation have been or will soon be closed.

I signed up for MySocialSecurity on Monday at their secure website. The usual personal information is required: name, current address, date of birth, Social Security number, telephone number, email address, etc., plus a page to create a user name and password.

There are three security questions to select for future use if/when you want to change your password. It was amusing to read this one [my emphasis]:

”What was your first telephone number as a child, including area code?

I wonder how many glitches there will be for those of us who are old enough to remember phone numbers before area codes existed, even phone numbers like FI2039, my childhood number. I did not test the system with that number; I chose a different question.

Once you are signed up, you can see all your lifelong Social Security information. Earnings record for you entire working life. What portion of earnings on which you paid FICA and Medicare (beginning in 1966).

Benefit details, payment dates, a profile section with all the information you have given SSA where it is easy to change home address, email address, phone number or bank account particulars if that becomes necessary.

There is an excellent help section and once you have created your account, you can use it to switch to electronic benefit payments instead of the methods above if you wish.

The website is easy to use and if you run into trouble, there is a link to find a phone number or email address for more help. Do it today. It takes only about five minutes and will be useful for the rest of your life.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Arlene Corwin: Seventy & Eight


I wonder how this will affect the many in my town who cannot afford to have a bank account....They will lose valuable money because of service fees.

Janette: Here are two links regarding the Direct Express Debit MasterCard -

The second link provides "Card Fees, Features & More"

I have to do it this afternoon....heading to work now.

Phone numbers? LOL Mine was 79.

I have used the direct deposit to my bank feature for years. Thank you for the information on signing up for a personal on line account. I will do so today.

Like Janette, I worry about those elders who do not have a bank account or want a charge card.

Wow, they think we can remember our childhood phone numbers?? Mine was RE (Regent) something or other, but I'll be darned if I can remember the numbers.

We moved a lot the only number I remember was my maternal grandmother's and it was only 6 digits. The rural places we lived the numbers were two digits on 4 party lines. Lots of listening in to be had.

One downside to this is having to provide the dates and details asked in the verification questions to set up an account. I just tried, and one of them was the year I opened a particular credit card. I could not remember which year it was and found no answers on the card or a statement, but guessed at the one I thought it had been, figuring logically. I apparently guessed wrong, and this may have been a question that was correctly answered "none of the above". I was kicked off and can't try again for 24 hours. I hope they ask the same questions. I can find the correct answer to that one before I try again, but if there are different questions, what if this happens again? With all the elders who may have difficulty with remembering this kind of detail, there may be a lot of frustration evoked in this process.

In that series of questions, I too couldn't answer one about the date of a loan I had many years ago so I chose "none of the above." I could answer answer all the other questions and had no problem.

Of course, if there are difficulties, you can always pick up the phone and call Social Security. They're quite good at answering questions.

I had to laugh when Mage said her telephone number was 79.

I always say I am so old my Social Security number is 3.

I had to get a Social Security number so I could be a waitress at the Last Supper....

I, too, had problems with the questions of dates and type car, etc and clicked on none of above and got the 'sorry' bit and to try in 24 hours. They really really need to be better at the questions. For example, the type car I bought? Not correct, though close, so I checked none of above. Not worth it for me. Too aggravating.

Several suggestions: Try a credit union rather than a bank to start and keep an account. There are no charges, and you even earn interest. Admittedly, not much in today's economy but it's still better than a charge.

In terms of the security questions and answers: the answer to a question doesn't matter as long as you give exactly the same answer every time you log in.

For every login I have, I write the user name and password on a 3x5-inch card (and also enter them in the security password software I use).

I also write down the Q&A questions on the 3x5 cards.
For some questions, such as the street I grew up on, I make up an answer, e.g.,Elm Street or Arlington Street. It doesn't matter as long as you enter the same exact answer every time.

Even if you don't make up the answer, it helps to write it down because--for the first job question, for example--you may not remember whether you wrote "waitress in a drivein" or "waitress in a drive-in." There it does matter.

All good suggestions many of us use, but the other commenters are referring to a section which asks questions to which SSA knows the answers.

In my case, one of the questions was about a loan from about 10 or 15 years ago which is long paid off and about which I have forgotten all the details.

Apparently, we are allowed to forget some number of answers. I happened to know the others asked in this section and had no trouble signing up.

Like Nancy, I like Mage's phone number. Ours was a long and two shorts!

nks for the info. I signed up.

I've used Direct Express for over a year now and am very happy with it.

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