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Advice if You Owe Money to Social Security Administration

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Mark Cappel
UpdatedMay 20, 2024
Key Takeaways:
  • Review how an overpayment on SSI can occur.
  • Understand that efforts to collect on overpayments can be aggressive.
  • If you have a legal question consult with a lawyer experienced in Social Security overpayment issues.

My friend just settled with the SSA on a payment plan. Can the SSA come after him if he leaves the country?

My friend was notified by SSA that they found that he had a bank account with $8,000. It was a mutual account with his friend, and he was receiving SSI while having money on this account. He has mental disability. They agreed on settlement that he is going to repay $28,000.00 (for some reason they increased the debt). Now SSA is withholding 10% of his monthly check. First question: If my friend moves back to his home country (Ukraine), is he still responsible for the debt, or they can not withhold money from person who lives in different country and doesn't receive the SSI anymore ( i.e., he doesn't have any income)? Second question: Is it possible to ask for debt waiver? Would it be possible to get the debt waiver if my friend is mentally disabled and couldn't be in control of circumstances?

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a federal government program, administered by the Social Security Administration (SSA), which is designed to supplement the income of elderly and disabled individuals who have limited income and financial resources. Under the current guidelines of the SSI program an individual who is unable to work and who receives less than $657 per month from other sources may be eligible to receive SSI benefits.

Although monthly income is the major factor considered when calculating the amount of benefits an individual can receive, the SSI program also limits the amount of money, property, and other assets that recipients can own while receiving benefits. Currently, an individual’s resources, as certain assets are called by the SSA, must total less than $2,000 in value for him or her to be eligible to receive SSI benefits. The assets considered by the SSA for calculating a beneficiary’s resources include cash, bank accounts, land, and vehicles, as well as several other categories of property. For a more extensive list of assets considered when calculating a recipient’s resources, as well as for more in depth information regarding the SSI program, you should visit the SSA's Understanding Supplemental Security Income Web site.

If the SSA determines that a beneficiary’s assets exceed the limits set by the SSI program, the beneficiary’s SSI payments will be suspended until his assets are once again below the SSI guidelines. In addition, if the SSA determines that a beneficiary has received SSI payments while his assets exceeded the program limits, it may require that the beneficiary repay to the SSA any payments made while he had too many assets.

From your question, it sounds like this may be what has happened to your friend; by analyzing financial records the SSA may have determined that the $8,000 held in the joint bank account made his assets exceed the SSI limits while he was receiving benefits, so they are requiring him to repay ALL payments made while he had too many assets. So, instead of having to pay them just the $8,000 in the bank account, he is being made to pay back $28,000 in benefits paid because the SSA has determined that he was actually ineligible to receive those payments. The $28,000 debt may also include penalties, interest, and other fees, especially if the SSA believes that your friend intentionally withheld information about his finances when submitting his application for SSI benefits.

Due to the fact that your friend is mentally ill, the SSA may be willing to reduce or even eliminate this obligation. To negotiate with the SSA, your friend may wish to hire an attorney to represent him. If his position is that he was not competent enough to know that he had assets that he should have disclosed to them, the SSA is unlikely to negotiate with him personally, as they may assume that he is also incompetent to enter into any meaningful negotiations or sign any binding contract. Your friend may also be able to appoint a non-attorney representative to negotiate with the SSA, though hiring an attorney would be preferable given the complexity of the situation and the amount of money involved; to read about appointing a representative for dealings with the SSA, read How Someone Can Help You With Your SSI.

If your friend’s mental illness renders him truly incompetent, your state courts may need to appoint a guardian ad litem to represent him in dealings with his attorney and with the SSA. I would encourage him to consult with an attorney (you may wish to accompany him) to discuss his situation and to determine the best way to approach the SSA about his disability and why he should not be held responsible for this debt.

Moving back to the Ukraine will not make your friend’s obligation to the SSA disappear; however, if he does decide to move overseas, it will be very difficult, if not impossible, for the SSA to force him to repay the debt. Unless he leaves assets in the United States which the SSA can seize to apply to the debt (such as bank accounts with money in them, property in his name, etc.), it is unlikely that the SSA will be able to collect on this obligation if your friend is no longer living in the States and no longer receiving money from any company or government agency in the United States. Assuming that he will have no assets or income in the U.S. after moving to the Ukraine, your friend can probably put this debt out of his mind, especially if he is not planning to move back to the States.

Again, I would encourage him to consult with an attorney about his plans and to discuss what action, if any, the SSA can take against him once he moves overseas. If his attorney thinks he can convince the SSA to forgive the debt based on your friend’s mental condition and ignorance of the funds in the account they are citing, he should probably pursue that option so that he does not need to worry about this debt if his plans change and he decides to stay in or return to the United States. However, if the SSA will not work with him in resolving this obligation, moving to Ukraine may keep him safe from any collection actions taken by the SSA.

I wish your friend the best of luck in resolving this obligation.

To learn more about how to resolve Social Security Administration over-payments, see the resource Social Security Overpaid Me $18K & Now Wants It Back. I hope that the information I provided helps him Find. Learn. Save.



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JJeffrey, Feb, 2014
Just had them tell me I owe them $800.00 for a overpayment of a death benefit from 34 years ago. would there not be a statute of limitation on something like that? And I did not cash the checks they were sent to my mother.
BBill, Feb, 2014
We can find no statute of limitations that applies to Social Security overpayments. Readers, if you know of one, please share it below. Go to the article Social Security Overpaid Me & Now Wants It Back and follow the advice we share in the section "Repayment Waiver".
BBeeney, Jan, 2014
I owe social security $3,010.00@ $10.00 a month I will be paying on this for the next 25 years!!
aalecia, Feb, 2013
hello!, I like your writing so so much! Thank you so much for sharing !!!!!
MMelanie, Nov, 2011
I have been on SSI for two and a half years. I was disabled for my nerves and a huge back problem that i have. Last year my mom was very ill and i kept traveling back and forth to the Dominican Republic. What i didn't know was that i was suppose to report this to the local SSI office. Soon after that i got pregnant and went into labor because of my stress. I gave birth in Dominican Republic to my premature baby of 8 months. I had a very hard time going and coming because i had to petition my son so he could be able to enter the United States as a American citizen. The SSI office noticed the problem and now is charging me a over payment because i didn't report my outside traveling to them. I'm so depressed and don't know how i'm going to pay for this.
BBill, Nov, 2011
See the resource Social Security Overpaid Me $18K & Now Wants It Back to learn what steps you can take to file for an exemption from repaying the over-payment.
kkay, Feb, 2011
if my husband owes ss money for repay of ss disability, and i file for my ss age 62 can i be turn down and will i still be able to draw some of his benefit.
BBill, Feb, 2011
I can't give you definitive answer. I believe it to be the case that any social security benefits you would receive due to income you earned would not be jeopardized by your spouse owing money to the SSA. I also believe that benefits you would be eligible to receive due to money paid in by your spouse would be in jeopardy.

I suggest that you call the Social Security Administration and ask them directly. You can reach them and speak with a representative by calling 1-800-772-1213, between 7:00 AM and 7:00 PM Eastern Time, Monday through Friday. Please come back and report on the answer you receive, so all the readers can benefit.
MMisty, Jul, 2011
Hello, My daughter has Autism and was receiving SSI benefits while I was in college. After i graduated, started working, and filed my W2...i received a letter stating that I owed 10k and my daughter no longer had medicaid. I was unable to get insurance for years for my daughter after that due to a "pre-existing condition," and I am currently on a payment plan paying back the 10k. I made this agreement to pay probably over 2 years ago....Is there anything I can do dispute the 10k? I'm a single mom and struggle to make ends meet! Do they think that just because I graduated from school and started working, my daughters disability went away?? Ive also heard that her father is receiving SSI and he has never paid a dime of child support..Can they garnish any of his benefits for my daughter? ...Any info would be very much appreciated.. Thank u so much!
BBill, Jul, 2011
Misty, you would be best served speaking to an attorney about both disputing the Social Security decision and how to go about collecting on the child support arrears that your child's father owes.

Alternatively, you can contact the SSA directly, inquiring into their dispute process and speak to the state agency that enforces child support collection in the state the child support was awarded.