No more paper checks in the mail. Starting March 1, nearly everyone who receives Social Security must switch to the government's new electronic payment system. Beneficiaries will be able to have their checks directly deposited into their bank account or put on to a debit card.

The government is switching to electronic payments in order to save money and to provide a more reliable method of delivering payments. The move to paperless payments will save the government close to $1 billion dollars over the next 10 years. It also eliminates the problem of checks that get lost in the mail or are delayed due bad weather.

Currently, around 93 percent of payments are made electronically, but about 5 million checks are still being mailed each month. If you are among those who haven't converted to electronic payments, the following are your options:

• You can have the checks deposited directly into your bank account. This option allows flexibility with withdrawals and you will be subject to the bank fees and limits you already have in place.

• If you can't afford a regular checking or savings account, you may be able to open a special low-cost bank account called an electronic transfer account (ETA). ETA fees are low and you are allowed four free withdrawals a month. However, not a lot of banks have joined the ETA program.

• You can have your payment put on a Direct Express debit card. The debit card does carry some additional fees if you are planning to withdraw cash.

You get one free withdrawal a month and then a $0.90 fee (or more depending on the bank) applies every time you make a subsequent withdrawal that month.

You can also use the card like a MasterCard to make purchases directly without fees.

Some individuals are exempted from the requirement to switch to paperless payments. If you are over age 90, live in a remote area that doesn't have electronic payment options, or have a mental impairment that doesn't allow you to manage finances, you may not have to switch to an electronic payment system.

Editor’s Note: Melanie B. Bradford is an attorney located in Scottsboro, Alabama at 803 Garland Ferry Road at the intersection of Veterans Drive and Garland Ferry near The Daily Sentinel. Her phone number is 256-259-3301. The Alabama State Bar requires any communication that may be interpreted as an ad to state: “No representation is made about the quality of legal services to be performed is greater than the quality of legal services performed by other lawyers.”

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