What is a Direct Express card and how does it work?

A Direct Express card is a type of debit card that can be used to access your Social Security benefits immediately. If you participate in the program, your benefits are deposited directly onto the Direct Express card. You no longer have to wait for a paper check or even have a bank account. 

There are pros and cons to this program. One positive attribute is that the transactions are more secure than the traditional paper check. Your card is protected by a Personal Identification Number (PIN) so only you should be able to access the funds. If your card is ever lost or stolen, you can pay a small fee to receive a replacement. The funds on the card are FDIC-insured just as those in a bank account would be. Another positive aspect of the card is that using it is easy and convenient. You can make purchases with the debit card anywhere MasterCard is accepted. You can withdraw cash at any retail company, bank, or ATM where MasterCard is accepted. 

Some of the drawbacks of the Direct Express card are that certain transactions will cost you a fee, and some of the things you can do for free with a traditional bank account may also cost additional fees if you use the card instead. For example, if you want a monthly paper statement by mail, you will be charged a small fee per month for this service. You will also be charged if you transfer money from the card into a bank account, and there is a charge if you use the card at an ATM to withdraw cash more than once a month. However, there are many ways to avoid the extra fees if you decide to participate. For example, instead of receiving a monthly paper statement you can access your account online and print it free of charge. You can also get cash-back from retail locations rather than using an ATM.  

You can sign up for the card by calling Direct Express at 1 (800) 333-1795. You can sign up online at http://www.fiscal.treasury.gov/GoDirect. You can also get help signing up through your local Social Security office.  

For more information, see: Social Security Online, Get Your Benefit Payment Through the Direct Express Card, http://www.ssa.gov/pubs/10073.html (last visited June 8, 2015); Direct Express, http://www.fiscal.treasury.gov/GoDirect (last visited June 8, 2015).