Direct Express Cards: Access Social Security and Other Federal Payments Without a Bank Account

senior woman smiling at atm machine.
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Even if you don’t have a bank account, you can quickly access your benefits with the Direct Express® Debit MasterCard® program. The Direct Express card is a prepaid debit card that allows federal benefit recipients to access their payments from any ATM that accepts Mastercard. Using the Direct Express card also means you don’t have to keep a minimum balance on the card and there are no monthly fees or costs to sign up.

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How Does the Direct Express® Card Work?

When you sign up for the Direct Express® card program, monthly payments are automatically deposited into your account on your payment date. When you activate your card, you choose a four-digit Personal Identification Number (PIN) that you enter when you use your card at the ATM and retail locations. You can use your card to:

  • Withdraw funds from any bank, credit union or ATM that accepts Mastercard debit cards
  • Buy from any place that accepts debit card payments
  • Pay bills online or over the phone

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Make Your Money Work for You

Fees

Most services are also free; however, there may be fees with some transactions. These fees may include:

  • After your one free ATM cash withdrawal for each benefit payment, further withdrawals come with a fee of 85 cents per transaction.
  • $4.00 to replace a card after one free card replacement each year. Expedited delivery costs $13.50.
  • Withdraw cash over the counter at Walmart for an 85 cent fee.
  • Transfer funds for $1.50 per transfer to a personal U.S. bank account.
  • Monthly paper statements cost 75 cents per month. You can check your account balance for free online, by calling the Direct Express card toll-free Customer Service Department number or by using the DX mobile app.

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Restrictions

There are a few, but not many, restrictions. If you need to purchase gas, you won’t be able to pay directly at the pump and will need to go inside to pay at the register. If you use the card to rent a vehicle, the rental agency may place an authorization hold on the debit card up to $500 of your balance during the rental period. The funds are released when you return the vehicle, but your money might not be available for up to two weeks.

Make Your Money Work for You

What if the Card Is Lost or Stolen?

If your card is lost or stolen, it must be reported to customer service within two business days to limit your liability for losses to $50. After two days, you may be liable for up to $500 in losses. After 120 days, you may be liable for the full amount.

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How Can I Apply for the Direct Express Card?

If you receive federal benefits, you can apply for the card. You can apply at your local federal paying agency or call the toll-free Direct Express card enrollment center at 1 (800) 333-1795.

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Last updated: November 1, 2021

About the Author

Josephine Nesbit is a freelance writer specializing in real estate and personal finance. She grew up in New England but is now based out of Ohio where she attended The Ohio State University and lives with her two toddlers and fiancé. Her work has appeared in print and online publications such as Fox Business and Scotsman Guide.

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