Social Security Benefits Handbook online edition 
What You Want To Know - What You Need To Know

Chapter Ten Payment, Non-Payment & Non-Receipt of Checks
Section 1001 -    Checks in General
       Social Security benefits are issued by the Treasury Department on regular green government checks or deposited electronically directly to your bank account.  The checks have the Social Security number of the worker on whose account the benefits are based and will also have the beneficiary identification code which indicates which type of benefit you are receiving (Section 1407).

    The checks can be mailed to your home, to your post office box or directly to your bank (Section 1006) They can be sent in care of someone, else but Social Security will want an explanation.  They want to make sure that no one else is depriving you of your Social Security benefits. In case of extraordinary circumstances, for example if you do not reside in a permanent dwelling or do not have a fixed home or mailing address, the local SSA office manager may permit your checks to be mailed to you care of the SS office. However, fear of theft of your mail is not considered a good reason.

       Social Security benefits are not assignable and are not subject to attachment or levy by creditors, except for an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) levy to collect unpaid Federal taxes and garnishment to enforce child support and/or alimony obligations.

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Section 1002 -    The First Check

      When you apply for Social Security benefits you may be required to submit certain documents (Chapter 4).  After you have submitted everything required, you should receive your first check in about one month.  This is the average processing time.  Sometimes it takes as little as ten or 15 days; sometimes it can take up to three months.  It is rare, but occasionally a case can take more than three months before the first check is sent out.  Of course, the check will not be paid until it is due.  If you apply in advance of the time you are first eligible for benefits, you will not receive it until you have met the eligibility requirement.  For instance, if you apply for retirement benefits three months before you turn 62, you will not receive the check until that time.  Remember that checks are paid in arrears (Section 1003).

      If you have applied for Social Security benefits after the first month in which you are entitled, the first check may include retroactive benefits due for the past period.  There is a full discussion of applications and retroactivity in Chapter 4.

      Social Security has different procedures and systems for processing cases.  Some cases can go through a computer system, other cases cannot.  The cases which can go through the computer are processed much more quickly than the others.  About a month after you apply for benefits, you can call the local district office to find out when you may expect to receive the first check.  They usually will not be able to tell you how long it will take until approximately four weeks after you apply.  They will be able to tell you at that time whether you can expect it within a few weeks, or if it could take a few more months.

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Section 1003 -    Regular Monthly Checks

      After you have become entitled to Social Security benefits you will receive your checks on a monthly basis.  The checks are paid one month in arrears.  This means for example, that the check you receive in May is the benefit due for the month of April.  For beneficiaries entitled before May 1997, the checks are paid on the third day of the month unless the third is a Saturday, Sunday or a holiday, in which case it will be paid before the third. For beneficiaries entitled beginning May, 1997 the check payment days are staggered according to birthday. If your birthday is the on the first through the tenth day of the month, you receive your check on the second Wednesday of the month; for those born on the eleventh through the twentieth, the check comes on the third Wednesday, and for those born on the twenty-first through the thirty-first, it comes on the fourth Wednesday.

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Section 1004 -    Combined Checks

      If two or more people who live in the same household receive benefits on the same account, the SSA will usually combine the payments for each beneficiary into one monthly check (but not a parent and child).  For example, if a husband and wife are both receiving benefits on the husbands account, they will get one monthly check, which will have both their names on it.

      If the wife had worked on her own record and is entitled to benefits on her own account in addition to the wifes benefits, the checks will not be combined; each person will receive his and her own check.  If you do not want your benefits combined into one check, you may request that they be issued separately.

      If you receive combined payments in one check and one beneficiary should die, the surviving beneficiary can take the check to the local Social Security district office to have it made payable to him or her.  The amount of benefits will be adjusted at a later time, although this may take several months.

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Section 1005 -    Special Checks

      After you are receiving your regular monthly checks, you may be due an increase for different reasons (Section 704).  If Social Security increases your benefit amount after the time you are first entitled to the increase, you will receive the increases for each unpaid month retroactively in one check.  For example, if you work after you first become eligible for Social Security benefits, your earnings may increase your benefit amount (Section 704.3).

      Social Security will automatically recompute your benefit, but it may take them years to do it. If you have earnings in a year after the year you become eligible for benefits, your new earnings may cause an increase in your benefit amount beginning with the January of the first year after the year of the new earnings. You may request a re-calculation as soon as you get your W-2, or wait for them to do it automatically.

    Sometimes it may take Social Security years to make the re-calculation, but when they do, they will pay the past-due increases in a lump sum. This check will be in an odd amount and can arrive at any time during the month, or the money can be combined with a regular check.  You will usually receive a letter explaining why you are receiving the check or the odd payment, but the letter may come after you receive the check.  It should come within about two weeks either before or after.  If you receive an odd check and you do not yet have an explanation letter within two weeks, contact your Social Security office.

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Section 1006 -    Direct Deposit

      If you wish, you can have your Social Security checks sent directly to your bank instead of to your home.  This can be very convenient for obvious reasons.  You must be receiving regular monthly checks.  To arrange for this you must contact your bank, not the District Office.  The bank must fill out certain forms and they will notify Social Security.  It may take up to 3 months.  If it doesnt start within that time, get a copy of the form from the bank and bring it to the District Office.  They can make the computer inputs from the copy.


Section 1007 -    Non-Payment in General

      Regular monthly checks will stop if SSA determines that your eligibility has terminated (Section 1009) or that you are subject to suspension (Section 1008).  Before the benefits actually stop you should receive notice of SSAs intention to terminate or suspend your benefits.  You generally have a right to appeal these decisions.  (See Chapter 13).

      Sometimes you may receive only a partial benefit for the month.  If you must pay back money because you have been overpaid, you may arrange for deductions from your monthly benefits over a period of time instead of withholding the full benefit amount until the overpayment is recovered.

      If you are due a check for a month but you do not receive it, you should follow the guidelines in Section 1011.

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Section 1008 -    Suspension of Benefits

      In some cases, even though you remain legally entitled to benefits, the payment may be suspended.  The most common example of this is where benefits are suspended because of earnings.  There is a full discussion of the Work Test in Chapter 8.

      If you are a young wife/husband or a young widow(er) (eligibility for these benefits is based on having a child  in your care) you are subject to a suspension of benefits for any full month you do not have a child "in your care."  Temporary absences do not count.  If you child is away on vacation with relatives or at a boarding school, you are considered to have a child in your care if you are exercising parental control and responsibility over the child.  If you are separated from the other parent, you are subject to suspension for any month the child is with that parent.  Social Security looks at the calendar months involved and not the total number of days.  If the child is in your care for at least one day during a calendar month, the benefit will not be suspended.

      Another common reason for suspension of benefits is in the case of a spouse or a widow(er) who is eligible for a governmental pension based on his or her own earnings (Section 705.4). Only two-thirds of the governmental pension offsets Social Security benefits.

      If your benefits are in suspense you are still legally entitled although you will not receive the benefit for any suspense month.  Once the event causing suspense stops, your benefits can be resumed without the need for another application.  You will notify Social Security of the change and the benefits will be started again.

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Section 1009 -    Termination of Benefits

      In Chapter 2, each type of Social Security benefit is specifically described including the events which will terminate benefits.  Benefits terminate upon death, and sometimes will terminate upon divorce, or marriage.  Disability benefits may terminate if there is a medical recovery or you return to work.
      Whatever the cause, benefits terminate the month before the month of the occurrence of the terminating event.  For instance, in the case of death, if a beneficiary dies in the month of August the benefits terminate with the month of July.  This sounds strange, but it really isnt.  Remember that checks are paid in arrears so that the payment received in August is actually the payment for July.

    In all cases except disability (Section 513), the benefit is payable for the month of termination so that although the benefits terminate the month before the month of the event, the check is payable for the terminating month.  In the case of the beneficiary who dies in August, the August 3rd check which is payable for the month of July is due and payable.  The September 3rd check which would otherwise be due for the month of August is not payable and must be returned.

      These rules apply to all types of events causing termination of benefits including death, marriage, remarriage, etc.  Disability benefits may stop because you have returned to work or because you have made a medical recovery.  In these cases, the termination of benefits occurs two months after the month the disability ceases.  For example, if your disability ceases because of a medical improvement in June the termination applies to the month of August.  Benefits are payable for the month of June, July and August, but not after August because that is the month of termination.

      If you appeal a decision to terminate your disability benefits, you may request your benefits to continue until you receive a hearing (Section 1305).  If you have had a hearing but your case is still under appeal, it must be re-evaluated.  If you lose after the hearing, the benefits will be considered an overpayment.  However, if you made the request in good faith, you may qualify for waiver, (see Chapter 11).

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Section 1010 -    Lost or Stolen Checks

      If your monthly check has been lost or has been stolen you should report this immediately to the Social Security office.  They will issue a stop payment on that check and will reissue a replacement check.  Usually you will receive it within 15 days.  If you find the lost or stolen check before the replacement check is issued, you can cash the check but you must notify Social Security that you found it.  If you receive the replacement check anyway it must be returned.  When Social Security puts a stop payment on a check it takes a long time for it to become effective.  If you find your missing check within a week or two after you reported it as lost or stolen, you should be able to cash it.

      A replacement check will have your Social Security claim number (Section 1407) on it and will say that it is a substitute check.  It will be dated as of the date it is actually issued, not the regular payment date.

      If the check is not lost or stolen but is only misplaced, Social Security will not make an immediate reissue.  They will wait three days after it was issued.  Action is taken to immediately replace a lost or stolen check.  If your check is stolen or lost you must be able to give some reason why you believe it is stolen or lost instead of misplaced.

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Section 1011 -    What to Do if Your Check
                  Doesn't Come

      The overwhelming majority of the beneficiaries receive their Social Security checks on time each month without experiencing any delays or interruptions, but sometimes there are problems.  Each month there are thousands of people across the country who do not receive their checks when due.

      As noted in Section 1002, the first check after you apply for benefits can take anywhere from two weeks to three months and sometimes more.  If you do not receive the first check within a month of the time it is due, you should call your Social Security office to find out when you can expect it in the near future or if it will take several more months.  Some cases can be processed through the computer system and other cases cannot.

    The cases that go through the computer system are done faster.  If your case is not being handled this way, Social Security will tell you.  Expect an additional two or three months for your check to come.  If Social Security tells you that the check will come within two months do not call them back the next week and ask where it is.  Sometimes you can actually delay the processing of your claim by making too many inquiries.  If you have not received your first check within ninety days from the time you gave Social Security all the information and documents they requested, you have a right to an expedited payment.  This is discussed in Section 1013.

      After your initial claim is processed your case will be set up on the computer system so that you will receive regular monthly checks automatically.  Checks are usually paid on the third day of the month.  If your check is received, but is lost or stolen, see Section 1010.  In that case you should notify Social Security immediately.  If your check is not received at all, you should wait three mailing days before notifying Social Security.  Sometimes delays occur with the Post Office.

      If your regular check does not come when it should, there is no point notifying Social Security before three mailing days have passed.  First of all, the Social Security telephone lines and the Social Security district office will be jammed with other people who have not received their checks on time.  It will take you a long time to get through to somebody at Social Security in the beginning of the month for this reason.

    But the most important reason for not notifying Social Security until three mailing days have passed is because Social Security will not do anything anyway.  Their procedures require them to wait three mailing days before taking any action to replace the current months check.  If you should finally get through to a district office before the third mailing day after the check is due, they will simply send you a form to complete and mail back to them.


      If you have not received the check by the third mailing day after it was due, steps will be taken to issue a replacement.  If your check does not come on the third, do not get upset.  In most cases you will receive it within three mailing days.  If you do not receive it after that you should notify Social Security of the non-receipt of the check.  You can visit the district office in person, call, or write a letter.  The easiest way is to write a letter because the phones and offices will be very busy in the first week of any given month. If you need to call, you may call the national toll-free line, 1-800-772-1213, but be prepared to wait.


      If you write a letter you should include certain basic information.  Give your complete name, your correct mailing address and your former mailing address if you have had a recent change.  You must also indicate the claim number and your beneficiary identification code (Section 1407).  Your notice of non-receipt of a check should identify which monthly check has not been received.  You can do this by indicating the day the check was due, such as the September third check, or you can describe it as the month for which the check if payable.

    For instance, the September third check is payable for the August benefit.  To avoid confusion you should indicate the month for which the benefit is payable as well as the date you expected the payment.  For example, you should say that it is the September third check for the August benefit.  If your checks are directly deposited to your bank account, do not contact Social Security at all.  The bank must send paperwork to notify Social Security.  If you contact Social Security instead of the bank, they will tell you to contact the bank because a bank officer must sign a form before Social Security can do anything.  When you mail a notice of non-receipt of a check, address it to your local district office, attention "Service Unit."  The Service Unit in the district office handles non-receipt notice (Section 105).


     After you have sent your notice of non-receipt give it about a week and then call to see if it was received.  It will be easier at that time to get through to the district office and they should be able to tell you whether or not they have your notice.  It takes about 15 days after the notice of non-receipt is processed by the district office for a replacement check to be issued.  If you have not received it within 15 days, you should again contact the Social Security district office.  They will tell you when to expect the check.  It is important not to call them before the time frames they give you.  If you call too soon the case may have to be pulled out of its normal processing to answer your question.  This can result in even further delay.

      If you have not received a regular monthly check within a month and a half after it was due, you have a right to an expedited payment.  See Section 1013.

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Section 1012 -    Replacement Checks

      If you notify Social Security that your check is lost or stolen or that you did not receive it (Sections 1010 and 1011) you will be sent a replacement check.  This will be a special check which may arrive at any time of the month and may be dated as of any date.  Of course you cannot keep both your regular check and the replacement check.  One or the other must be returned if you should receive both.  It does not matter which one is returned.  You can cash whichever one you receive first.  If you keep both checks you will be overpaid and will be required to make a refund.  In these cases you are almost never eligible for waiver of repayment.


Section 1013 -    Expedited Payments

      The Social Security Act puts certain deadlines on the time when checks must be paid to you by Social Security.  The rules are different depending on whether it is your first check or a regular monthly payment.

First Check

      In a case involving your first check after you apply for benefits, you may request an expedited payment if the check has not been paid to you within 90 days after the time you gave all the evidence which was requested by Social Security to support the claim (except in disability cases).  Social Security is then required by law to pay you within 15 days of your request.  To file the request you should go to your district office and tell them you want the expedited payment.  If preferred, you may send a letter.  The request must be in writing; you cannot do it over the phone.  If you go to the district office, they will prepare a written request for you.  If you file your request before the 90 days, Social Security will not act on it until the end of the 90-day period.

      Please note that if you have filed your application for benefits before the month you are entitled to payment, the 90 days runs from the date on which the first payment is due, not from the date you submitted your last evidence.  For example, if you file in June for benefits beginning with the month of September, the 90-day period begins running from October third (October third is the payment check for the September benefits).

Regular Monthly Checks

      If you are receiving regular monthly benefits, a request for expedited payment may be filed 30 days after the fifteenth day of the month in which the payment was due.  For example, if you are receiving regular monthly benefits on the third of each month and you do not receive the check due on September third, you may request an expedited payment if you have not received it within 30 days after September fifteenth.  The payment must then be issued to you within 15 days of that request.  The request for expedited payment can be filed earlier but it will not be acted upon until after the 30 days runs out.

      If you do not receive your check despite your request for expedited payment and you are not satisfied with the explanations you are getting from Social Security, you may wish to contact an elected official.  See Section 1014.

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Section 1014 -    When to Go to Your Congressman

      Sometimes, even with the best efforts of Social Security employees, problems can occur which delay payments.  If you have followed the procedures outlined in the above sections, but still have not received your check, an elected official will help push your case.  You should contact your United States Congressman or your United States Senator.  Each Congressmans office usually has a person who keeps in touch with the Social Security Administration.

      When the Social Security office receives an inquiry from a Congressman, they will take steps to make sure that your case is handled as quickly as possible.  Social Security will locate your folder and put a special "flag" on it to indicate that there is a Congressional inquiry.  This will make sure that the case does not get lost in the shuffle and regular reports will be made to the manager of the Social Security office who in turn will make reports to the Congressmans office.  It is important to contact your Congressman only when all else fails.

     If you contact your Congressman too soon it may result in additional delays on your case.  This is because the case may have to be pulled out of its normal processing to answer the Congressmans inquiry.  Call your Congressman only after you have followed the guidelines in the above sections.

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