Social Security Overpaid Me $18K & Now Wants It Back

What if someone owes $18,000 to Social Security from overpayment and now the SSA wants the money back?

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Bill's Answer: Resident Expert

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.

Quick tip:   If repaying Social Security is causing you to struggle with other bills, get a no-cost, no obligation analysis of your debt options from a pre-screened debt relief provider.

Repayment Waiver

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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Comments (45)

Kathleen D.
Chicago, IL  |  February 20, 2014
How do you find someone who has experience dealing with Social Security disputes on overpayments?
February 20, 2014
You can start an appeals process yourself. See the Illinois Pro Bono Social Security Overpayment Project for excellent information to help you get started.

Readers, any suggestions for advocates you've worked with?
Terry G.
April 02, 2012
We had an agreement with s.s.d.i. for the supposed overpayment. We have it in writing, now they stopped his pay saying they are going to take it all until it is p.d., or he retires. I thought an agreement was a agreement,especially where we have it on paper. Can they do this?
April 02, 2012
Consult with a lawyer who can read the contract you signed with the Social Security Administration, and can take appropriate action if the Social Security Administration is in violation of your contract.
Terry G.
Wells, ME  |  April 03, 2012
There was no contract. We made a verbal agreement at the SSI office. They sent us two letters to confirm that they would take $100 per month out for 427 months. Then in September, we received a different type of letter, no SSI heading, just SSI publications, saying that because of the overpayment they would be taking $1,000 per month. That is his whole check.
Danielle V.
Grasonville, MD  |  March 25, 2012
My husband was injured as a child and apparently began receiving benefits in 1996 when he was 8.Because he was a minor his mother's name was on all the checks. He never personally received any money. He had a terrible childhood so he left when he was 17. Now he is 23 and they are saying that he owes over $18,000.We have already filed to have it waived and explained that he has not lived at the address they sent everything since 2006 and never signed any of the checks so his mother must have it, but they told us that he is still responsible because he should've had her name removed after turning 18. Can they hold someone who received benefits as a minor responsible when they turn 18 even if they had no idea that the checks were being sent? Please help.
March 25, 2012
You spouse needs more assistance than someone like me can offer in an e-mail message or Web posting. Consult with a lawyer who has experience in litigating issues with the Social Security Administration.
Randy S.
Princeton, MN  |  March 31, 2014
This happened to my sister and I this year. SSA went back 37 years and took our refund , both state and federal. I contacted the SSA and requested copies of the checks my father must have cashed. the agent said that was not possible because it was 37 years ago. They also said that a notice was sent to my fathers address back then and received no reply. Never were we contacted until now. When asked why the SSA continued to send my father checks after we turned 18, he had no answer. Great way to bring back the death of my Mother. Waiting for forms from Sen. Franken's office, so they can look into it.
Devona M.
Austinburg, OH  |  February 10, 2012
The amount of people that get overpaid (lots of them), seems like social security is just throwing the money out the windows, I think they should have a law suit thrown on them to straighten up there act. They dont know what they are doing and didnt even realize they were overpaying me, I had to tell them. I am demanding that they stop overpaying me, it takes them forever to do anything. Its ridiculous how they run this business. They dont know what they are doing, different answers from each one of em. I would suggest you get a receipt every time you turn info into them saying what it was you turned into them. They are telling me I didnt notify them of BWC payments, I did! Its ridiculous how they operate. Somebody needs to check them. I would be glad to help out if there is a lawsuit, not for the money but to make the country run better!
James P.
November 29, 2011
Hi, I am currently going through a problem with social security and need help. I recieved a letter saying I owe $14,161 because I was overpaid for 18 months when I was not supposed to recieved dissability. When I called and asked why I am still collecting payments, they said it is from SSI and not dissability. I asked why I wasn't receiving SSI during the payments of dissability, and they said because you can't receive SSI while getting Disability. I have no idea what to do, I just finished college so I have to start paying back student loans. I work a temp job that barely gets me by and I really don't want to become homeless again. I have had 5 different addresses (including my car) due to bad living arrangements and have struggled to stay alive over the last 8 years. Social Security said they sent me multiple letters, but I never received them and this is the 1st I heard of it. Why would they make the mistake of continueing to put direct deposit payments into my bank account for 18 months when I am not supposed to receive them anymore? More importantly, why do I have to be the one to pay for their mistake?
November 30, 2011
Contact the Social Security Administration at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) or visit your local Social Security office and ask about the overpayment. They will examine each overpayment individually and will follow established procedures governing overpayments, appeals, and waivers. They will aid you in filling out the correct forms. If they are not helpful then look for local free legal counseling.

Unfortunately, when it comes to the government, when they make a mistake in your favor, you are still responsible.
James P.
San Diego, CA  |  April 11, 2014
I did all of this, the repeal was successful. But they acted like it never happened and are now garnishing my wages. Every time I go to them to get paperwork filled out or show how they made a mistake, they act like I never visit and I never came in. They are now garnishing 25% of my wages, the payments have stopped over 2 years ago, and yet somehow they still think I am getting payed to this day and the amount I owe is increasing every month. I'm trying to get a hold of legal aid, but I'm having as much luck with them as I did with social security. Should I consider looking for a lawyer to declare bankruptcy? I'm a few months away from being homeless again.
April 11, 2014
One option you should discuss with a lawyer is bankruptcy.

If the appeal was successful, I don't understand how your wages can be garnished. You need more help than anyone can provide over e-mail or a Web page posting, and I suggest you keep trying to find legal advice from a local lawyer.
Shirleen M.
Union City, MI  |  October 10, 2011
I have a question, My husband is on Social Security Income and has been for 10 years. He worked and made over his amount, He contacted SS and they worked out a plan by which $100 per month is currently being taken from his check. He originally owed a total of $24,000. If he should pass away, do I, as his wife have to repay that? I am getting up there to collect my own SS, will they take it from mine? Thank you.
October 10, 2011
I am not aware of any Social Security Administration rule making a surviving spouse liable for a deceased spouse's overpayment, or the spouse's repayment agreement. Readers, please comment below if you have information to the contrary.
Christine B.
Ruckersville, VA  |  February 22, 2012
In response to the question of who is reponsible for repayment of an overpayment in the event of death of beneficiary, see Social Security publication SI 02201.021. Short answer: yes, the spouse may be liable.
Lexi L.
Jacksonville, FL  |  June 13, 2011
Social Security recently sent me a letter saying I have been over payed $20,000 by them and they want me to pay it back. Will they just take that money out of my $900 check I usually receive from them every month? Also, how do I get off social security for good? And if I did get off social security for good, would I have to pay that $20,000 out of my own pocket? I am so confused. Help me please!!!!!!!!
June 14, 2011
Consult with a lawyer in your state who has experience in consumer law. A lawyer will be able to interview you and learn why you are receiving Social Security benefits, can review the reasons why the Social Security Administration believes you were overpaid, and can explain your rights and liabilities.
Shannon W.
Miami, FL  |  July 04, 2011
My mother passed away 2 years ago and SSA continued to pay benefits for about 6 months after she died. It was direct deposited into her and my joint account. The bank has placed a hold on the overpayment but SSA has still not retracted the money from the bank. I really want to close the account but the bank said I have to wait for SSA to request the money I said it has been 2 years...any ideas what I should do? It is $10,000. Thank you
July 05, 2011
Have you tried contacting the Social Security Administration directly? The SSA Web site explains how they accept overpayment on benefits.

I think that you may be able to get the bank to make out a bank check in the name of the SSA, once you determine the exact amount that needs to be repaid. That way, the bank can be assured that the money will not be used by you, personally.
Anna B.
Windcrest, TX  |  May 18, 2011
The SSA stated they over paid my daughter $9000 & now wants it back. Her father receives disability so therefore she gets a benefit, which took the place of child support. Her father started working & informed SSA of this he still gets SSI & is working. Due to this they said the benefits should have been suspended when he started working, but he informed them of this & they told him the benefits would continue. I never received any additional money from his job. I have a court order stating the disability benefit is considered child support. How is this my fault & why do I have to pay it back. I don't have that kind of money to pay back. What can I do?
May 18, 2011
Reread the original answer above, and consider completing a Social Security Form SSA-632-BK. Consult with a lawyer who has experience with Social Security negotiations if you need assistance in arguing your daughter's case with the Social Security Administration.
Anna B.
Windcrest, TX  |  May 18, 2011
Would you recommend the Waiver or the Reconsideration?
May 18, 2011
I cannot give you legal advice. Consult with a lawyer, who will interview you, ask probing questions about the circumstances surrounding how your ex-spouse received information that he should not report his income to the Social Security Administration, and review your divorce decree. He or she will explain the positives and negatives of each approach, and recommend the best course of action for you.
Anne S.
Houston, TX  |  April 13, 2011
Another question, if you are being investigated due to false reports because of a revenge situation, who would you talk to about it? Is there some sort of lawsuit you can file to put a stop to someone accessing your ssa account? Say if your sister is friends with an IRS agent and you start mysteriously having problems with the ssa because of this? I don't get along with my sister and my ex-in laws and she knows this and has gone behind my back and helped everyone who has even gotten a tiny bit upset with me to gang up and cause me and my children problems but maintains she of course did no such thing.
April 14, 2011
Consult with a lawyer in your area who has experience in civil litigation. He or she will review your issue with the Social Security Administration, your potential tax issue, and the possible slander issue. Regarding the latter, you need some evidence your sibling is causing you harm. This evidence must be in form of statements from witnesses who can describe your sibling's behavior, or e-mails, or recordings of telephone conversations, and so on.
Andrew Y.
Racine, WI  |  February 20, 2011
If I am currently in Ch. 13 Bankruptcy, is SSA allowed to offset my taxes for over payments made prior to filing even though they did not file for payments under my plan?
February 21, 2011
Consult with your bankruptcy lawyer about this question. He or she knows far more about your situation than I, and will advise you precisely.
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