Direct Express Cards

Authored By: Iowa Legal Aid


Most people now get their monthly Social Security benefits on a debit card instead of a check in the mail. This debit card is called a Direct Express card. The federal government contracts with a private bank to service the cards. At the beginning of each month, the debit card is loaded with that person’s monthly benefits. A Direct Express card can be used just like any other debit card to make purchases or pay bills.  

This Direct Express card may be a better option for people who do not have a bank account and rely on check-cashing services each month. Other benefits include a low balance alert, reduced risk of lost or stolen checks, and the ability to buy money orders at locations that accept Debit MasterCard.  

Know About Possible Fees

Card users should still be aware of possible fees. For example, card users can get money from an ATM one time per month without a charge. After that, there is a $0.85 charge for each withdrawal. There is no ATM surcharge at approximately 75,000 ATMs throughout the country including Comerica Bank, Charter One, Privileged Status, Alliance One, PNC Bank, MasterCard® ATM Alliance, and MoneyPass. To find an ATM near you, please visit the Direct Express card website at or by calling the Direct Express card Customer Service Department number listed on the back of your card.

You can avoid the extra ATM charge by getting cash back from a bank or during a store purchase. Keep in mind that to use the card at a store, the store must accept the Debit MasterCard. You can also use your debit card online to make payments and to also buy money orders at the U.S. Post Office. You can find out more information about the card, fees, and strategies for avoiding fees online at:

How to Sign Up for a Direct Express Card

Anyone receiving federal benefits can sign up for a Direct Express card. If you already have a bank account, think about whether the Direct Express card is the best choice for you. You also have the option of signing up for direct deposit. You can sign up for direct deposit or the Direct Express card by calling 1-800-333-1795 or online

Iowa Legal Aid provides help to low-income Iowans. 

To apply for help from Iowa Legal Aid:

  • Call 800-532-1275.
  • Iowans age 60 and over, call 800-992-8161.
  • Apply online at
If Iowa Legal Aid cannot help, look for an attorney on “Find A Lawyer” on the Iowa State Bar Association website   A private attorney there can talk with you for a fee of $25 for 30 minutes of legal advice.
As you read this information, remember this article is not a substitute for legal advice.
Last Review and Update: May 21, 2020
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