The days of paper Social Security checks are over. All Social Security beneficiaries are now required to receive their payments electronically. Most people elect to have their Social Security payments directly deposited into a bank or credit union account. Retirees who don’t have bank accounts or prefer not to use one can have their payments loaded on a prepaid Direct Express Debit Mastercard.
However, as with every financial product, there is some fine print and potential to trigger extra costs. Here’s how to avoid fees on your Social Security debit card:
— Avoid taking more than one withdrawal per deposit at Direct Express ATMs.
— Locate in-network ATMs.
— Use the card to shop.
— Get cash back with purchases.
— Access cash via a bank or credit union teller.
— Don’t use the card on international trips.
— Don’t sign up for paper statements.
— Don’t lose your card.
— Sign up for direct deposit.
The Direct Express debit card provides a variety of free services to Social Security beneficiaries. There are no sign-up fees, monthly fees or overdraft fees, which plague the users of many other prepaid cards, and no credit check is required to enroll. Here’s how to use the Social Security debit card without incurring fees:
Avoid Taking Multiple Withdrawals Per Deposit at Direct Express ATMs
Debit card users can withdraw cash from Direct Express network ATMs for free once per deposit to the account each month. Additional cash withdrawals at network ATMs are 85 cents each.
“Take the cash you need for the month with that one ATM withdrawal,” says Bill Hardekopf, CEO of the credit card comparison website LowCards.com. “If you need additional cash, go into a bank or credit union rather than using an ATM.”
You can take your free withdrawal during the same month as the deposit or the month after. For example, if you receive a Social Security payment on May 8, you are eligible for a free ATM withdrawal between May 8 and June 30. Cardholders can set up free notifications of deposits by phone, email or text message to keep track of when payments arrive.
Locate In-Network ATMs
If you use a non-network ATM, you will be charged additional fees. The ATM locator feature at USDirectExpress.com can help you find a network ATM, including Comerica Bank, Charter One, Privileged Status, Alliance One, PNC Bank, Mastercard ATM Alliance and MoneyPass.
“The Direct Express card is not a bad card and does not have a lot of fees,” says Lauren Saunders, associate director of the National Consumer Law Center. “The main issue is withdrawing cash, and you can do that without fees once a month at a network ATM or any time at a bank teller window or using cash back at a supermarket or many big-box chains like Target and Walmart.”
Use the Card to Shop
Since ATM withdrawals are limited, it’s often more convenient to shop with the Direct Express debit card instead of using cash.
“This card can be used to make a purchase anywhere that a debit Mastercard is honored, which is just about anywhere, so use the card to make your purchases rather than using cash,” Hardekopf says.
You can set up free low balance alerts when the account balance falls below a certain level. If you don’t have enough money in the account to complete your purchase, you can use the card for part of the purchase and pay for the rest with cash or another form of payment.
Thomas Santaniello, a legislative and public affairs specialist at the Treasury’s Bureau of Fiscal Service, says, “If you should make a mistake, your transaction would be denied for insufficient funds. You would not be charged a fee.”
Get Cash Back With Purchases
When you use your Direct Express debit card at retail locations, you can request cash back with your purchase. “The smart thing to do with the card is to use it to shop, use it to pay bills, and then if you need to get cash back, you can do it at the point of sale,” Santaniello says. “If you do that, the card can be used virtually fee-free.”
Access Cash Via a Bank or Credit Union Teller
While multiple ATM withdrawals trigger fees, you can get access to the cash loaded on to your card from a bank or credit union teller for free.
Don’t Use the Card on International Trips
If you plan to travel abroad in retirement, you may want to leave your Social Security debit card at home. Comerica charges $3 and 3% of the amount withdrawn to use ATMs outside the United States in addition to a possible surcharge for using a non-network ATM. For debit purchases in foreign countries, you’ll also be charged 3% of the price.
Don’t Sign Up for Paper Statement
A paper statement mailed to you costs 75 cents per month. This fee is easily avoided by accessing your account information online. You can also check your balance and transaction history for free using the DX Direct Express mobile app.
Don’t Lose Your Card
Take care to hold on to your debit card. After one free replacement each year, it will cost you $4 for each new card. There’s also an extra $13.50 charge if you need to have the new card delivered overnight.
Sign Up for Direct Deposit
A funds transfer from your Direct Express debit card to a personal U.S. bank account costs $1.50 each time. You can avoid this fee by signing up to have your Social Security payments directly deposited into your bank account instead of applied to the debit card. With your own bank account, you can get unlimited and free in-network ATM withdrawals from a financial institution near your home and accrue interest on your Social Security dollars until you spend them. Balances on a prepaid debit card garner no interest.
“If you have a bank account, it’s generally better and more convenient to have your Social Security direct deposited there,” Saunders says. “It’s easy to switch.”
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How to Avoid Fees on Your Social Security Debit Card originally appeared on usnews.com
Update 08/10/20: This story was previously published and has been updated with new information.