The Social Security Administration paid benefits to over 52 million recipients in 2009. Almost 7 million receive paper checks. When these recipients move, whether temporarily or permanently, the U.S. Postal Service forwards their checks. However, recipients need to understand the pitfalls of using check forwarding services to receive Social Security payments, especially if the checks are required to meet their daily needs.
Reporting Address Changes
Issuing benefit checks requires coordination between Social Security and the federal agency that actually issues government payments — The U.S. Department of the Treasury. Checks arrive on the third day of the month or one of the first four Wednesdays of each month, depending on the birthday of the recipient. Social Security must give the Treasury Department information regarding check amounts and delivery addresses by monthly cut-off dates so the Treasury has time to issue the checks. If a beneficiary moves but does not report the change before the cut-off, the check goes to the old address and the post office must forward it. The U.S. Postal Service will forward checks up to 12 months. However, it will not forward checks outside the United States.
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The Postal Service provides temporary mail forwarding services for all mail, including government checks, from 15 days to 12 months. However, forwarding means payments arrive at least one week late. Social Security will not issue a replacement check until the third day after the usual delivery date if the address used for the check is correct and the recipient does not want to change the address. If the recipient then receives a duplicate and original check she must return one. Cashing both creates an overpayment that Social Security generally will not waive.
The U.S. Postal Service forwards mail for permanent address changes up to 12 months but does send a notification of mail-forwarding to the Social Security Administration. If SSA does not receive a report from the beneficiary it initiates contact to find out why there's no report. Social Security cannot change the address on its records based on reports from the Postal Service. Only first-person reports from the check recipient, his representative payee or other individual clearly acting on his behalf can report the address change.
Check Forwarding Services
The Postal Service offers a check forwarding service — for a fee — that will bundle and forward all mail including Social Security checks to a temporary address weekly for up to one year. The Post Office does not notify any senders about the temporary address change. However, Social Security rules prohibit using an address within the United States to receive Social Security checks while residing outside the US for over three months. The U.S. Treasury Foreign Assets Control Regulations and Cuban Assets Control Regulations (Treasury Circular 655) forbids forwarding checks or accepting checks on behalf of residents of Cuba or North Korea.
Other Forwarded Mail
If recipients have direct deposit, checks continue to go to their bank account regardless of their mailing address. Social Security recommends direct deposit to avoid the delays involved in forwarding checks. However, if recipients with direct deposit do not report a change of address and their post office starts returning mail to Social Security, the agency will contact banks and other sources to track down the new mailing address. If the agency cannot locate a good address for the recipient, it will suspend benefits even if the bank account is current.