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Paper checks? Social Security going paperless May 1.

Paper checks will be a thing of the past for all Social Security recipients, except those 90 or older.

In this 2005 file photo, trays of printed Social Security checks wait to be mailed from the US Treasury's Financial Management services facility in Philadelphia. Starting May 1, 2011, most recipients will no longer be able to receive paper checks. They'll have to opt either for a direct deposit to a bank or a debit card.

Bradley C Bower/AP/File

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Before too long, the government check will no longer be in the mail.

Officials have settled on the dates when millions of people will no longer be able to get their Social Security and other benefit checks by mail.

New recipients of benefits will have to accept paperless payments starting on May 1 of next year, three months later than first proposed.

Those already on Social Security will have until March 1, 2013 to make the switch to direct deposits or a debit card.

More than 58 million retirees, disabled people and surviving family members receive Social Security or Supplemental Security benefits. Already eight out of 10 people getting federal benefits receive those payments electronically, officials say.

The switch to electronic payments will eliminate the problem of lost or stolen checks and also the problems faced by people displaced from their homes who have to worry about getting their checks mailed to them, said Richard L. Gregg, the Treasury Department's assistant fiscal secretary.

"Even though we have done a good job of encouraging people to switch over, we still are making 120 million payments by mail for Social Security every year and another 15 million annually for veterans and other types of benefits," Gregg said.

Every year, the government has to process about 600,000 claims for lost or stolen checks. Social Security will save $1 billion over the next decade from phasing out paper checks, he said.

The final rules, scheduled to be unveiled Tuesday, are very similar to the proposal the government put forward in June.

But in response to public comments, the government has decided to allow people who are 90 and over and are still getting Social Security benefit checks to continue to receive their benefits the same way. The government estimates there are 275,000 people who fall into that category.

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