How Are Social Security Checks Processed?

Direct Deposit

Most retired or disabled people receive monthly Social Security checks via direct deposit into their bank accounts. If you don't have a bank account, the Social Security Administration delivers paper checks in the mail. However, the government encourages electronic payments because they're safe, secure and convenient. No lost or stolen checks in the mail, and you receive your money on time, even if you're out of town.

Designated Account

You must designate only one account for direct deposit. The money is available to use on the day of deposit for withdrawal or to transfer to other accounts.

Your Social Security Payday

While some beneficiaries receive payments on the first day of the month, in most cases your birthday determines the day of the month you receive your check. If, for example, your birthday is on or before the 10th day of the month, you'll receive your check on the second Wednesday. If your birthday is between the 11th and 20th of the month, your payday is on the third Wednesday. For a birthday between the 21st and the last day of the month, expect your benefit check to arrive on the fourth Wednesday.

Check Date for Spouses

If you receive payments as the spouse of a beneficiary, your payments are scheduled according to your spouse's birthday.

Holidays and Weekends

If your regularly scheduled check is due on a weekend or a holiday, it's deposited into your account on the preceding business day.

When to Sign up for Benefits

Apply to receive Social Security benefits three months before your planned retirement age. If you become disabled before you retire, it will take a minimum of six months to receive these benefits if you qualify.

How to Sign up for Benefits

The easiest way to start benefits is to use the Internet. Go to SocialSecurity.gov (see Resources). If you're already receiving benefits but wish to change to direct deposit or change banks, you'll find instructions and a form to download. Use the website's office locator link to find your local Social Security office.

Your First Check

The SSA sends you a benefit award notice in the mail with the exact date of your first deposit, usually within 30 to 60 days of your application. Afterward, payment arrives according to your birthday.

Change of Address

The government needs your correct mailing address to send correspondence about your benefits, including notice of an annual cost of living increase. You can change your address online, by telephone or in person at your local Social Security office.

Check Garnishment

Federal law permits the government to intercept Social Security benefits to collect money you owe. Your benefits may be reduced to pay child support or alimony, back federal taxes--up to 15 percent of your monthly benefit, and any nontax debts you owe federal agencies. If you wish, the Internal Revenue Service may withhold a portion of your benefits to pay current year taxes.

Account Information

Whenever you contact the SSA, be sure to have your Social Security number and a personal check or statement from your bank account. If you're changing accounts, verify that deposits are going to your newly requested account before closing an old account.