Overpayment of Social Security benefits is not uncommon. Mistakes can be made by either person receiving the benefits or by the Social Security Administration (SSA).
Because of the complex formulas used to calculate benefits, and the huge number of beneficiaries in the system, the SSA inevitably makes mistakes in benefits payments. Errors can also result from the applicant not informing the SSA of some important change in their situation. Some common errors include:
- A person earning income and not informing SSA.
- The SSA recalculating benefits it already paid.
- A change in a person's living situation, such as a reduction in housing costs, that affects the benefits award.
Request for Repayment
When the SSA realizes it has overpaid a beneficiary, it will send the individual a letter requesting that recipient pay back the money that he or she received in error. However, the SSA knows that some of the people who it has overpaid in the past are not financially capable of compensating the SSA for the overpayments, which can be substantial, especially if the error was not caught and corrected quickly.
The SSA has a whole section on its Web site discussing overpayment issues and what you can do if you either think that you were not overpaid, or if you cannot afford to pay back the money. You can visit Understanding Supplemental Security Income Overpayments for more information. Also, the forms you need to complete are available at Request For Waiver Of Overpayment Recovery Or Change In Repayment Rate - Form SSA-632-BK.
If you claim inability to repay the debt due to financial hardship, you will need to submit the appropriate form (see SSA Web page mentioned above) along with proof of your inability to pay, such as your pays-tub, rent receipts, and utility bills, receipts for medications and other medical care, and any other documentary evidence supporting your claim that you do not have enough money to repay the SSA after meeting your family's basic living expenses.
The SSA will review your request, and if it approves the request, it may entirely or partially waive the overpayment obligation. If the SSA rejects your request, you do have the option to file an appeal; depending on the amount of money in question, it may be wise to hire a lawyer to assist you with the appeals process.
Many legal aid and other pro bono legal services can assist with SSA overpayment disputes (for an example of the types of help you may be able to receive through legal aid, you can visit Pine Tree Legal Assistance's page How to Cope with Social Security Overpayments).
In a worst case scenario, the SSA may be able to garnish your wages and seize other assets, such as money in your bank accounts, to collect this debt. This extreme action is only likely to happen if you ignore the problem and do not communicate with the SSA to work out some type of solution, either a waiver, deferment or repayment, or an affordable payment plan.
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