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

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Daniel Cohen
UpdatedJun 11, 2024
Key Takeaways:
  • The Social Security Administration routinely overpays beneficiaries.
  • The SSA will ask a beneficiary to return overpayment.
  • Beneficiaries can appeal overpayment requests.

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

What if someone owes $18,000 to the Social Security Administration from overpayment from when they were younger and now the SSA wants the money back? What can the government do if they don't repay it? They are not disabled and work a normal, minimum-wage job. They can't afford to pay it back.

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.

I hope this information helps you Find. Learn & Save.



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HHolly, Apr, 2023
My brother's wife (while married to him) was getting Survivor Benefits and when SS realized that there was an error, they wanted $36,000. back. Still don't know if it was them or her that made the error. Now my brother (still married to the person) is getting a large inheritance. Can they go after this for repayment and what is the statue of limitations on the repayment?
BBetsalel Cohen, Jul, 2023
Hello Holly, I am not a lawyer, but I can provide some general information that may be helpful. It's important to note that laws and regulations can vary depending on the jurisdiction, so it's advisable to consult with a legal professional for advice specific to your brother's situation. In general, the SOL is 10 years, although there are circumstances that it can be longer. In general, they can go after the husband. Given the fact that he will have a large amount of money that may be the easiest way for them to recover the money. I suggest that you contact a local lawyer for legal advice. Good luck.
RRebecca Dillon, Dec, 2022
My mother received a letter that she was over paid in 2012. They said that she received 728.40 a month and 30.40 was from Massachusetts.The reason they are giving of overpayment is that they "do not pay money for the state of Massachusetts". Did they at the time and don't now so they can take the money back?
AAndosia Fair, Dec, 2015

I was receiving $1550 a month for over a decade for disability. I was never given an initial amount when I first qualified to receive SS. In March of 2015 to my total shock, I was sent a letter stating I was overpaid and my monthly check was immediately cut to $1050. What was a previously tight living situation went to worse. I was advised to wait for further instruction against my better judgement. In late November 2015 I received a second letter with more information and then I filled out all applicable forms, requesting a waiver, explaining how I was totally unaware of any overpayment, and providing all my information of bills and living expenses. I sent this all certified mail within days. Two weeks after I received 6 separate letters from SS, each telling me different amounts that I would now begin to receive each month, the highest was for $570. Also my insurance, which was previously covered by the state, is now being additionally deducted from my monthly payment, making it $380 a month. Quite a drastic difference from the original amount of $1550. They completely disregarded everything I sent them. I barely leave the house and have 2 children to care for. I have no idea how I will survive. I will continue to appeal however as of now I am now living in fear of loosing my home and my entire life as I know it.

BBetsalel Cohen, Dec, 2015

I am very sorry to hear of your predicament. I understand that your waiver was denied. Did you fill out a reconsideration request?  Were you granted a personal conference at the SSA offices?  You should be allowed a chance to appeal the waiver. I suggest that you speak to a lawyer in your area and see if you can get legal representation. Check out this page for more information about free legal aid. You might also consider speaking to the lawyer about filing for bankruptcy. 

ccharles chapman, Oct, 2014
My wife and I have just dealt with this There seems to be a fine print statement somewhere that says " IF Over payment is the fault of SS then payment arrangements can be made or overpayment waived" Giving you wrong information is not considered their fault We went to them 4 times and called twice trying to stop the wife from getting her check because she kept working. Every time we were told don't worry about it when we get a copy of your taxes we will adjust it or let you pay it back at 10% or you can file an appeal that you can't pay We have been fighting this for two years .They took all of her check back without warning and not just the overpayment but every penny paid. We told them it was hard to pay back so went to get an appeal form and were told we do not qualify as it was our fault she was over paid it was not their fault we got the wrong info They will not even allow her enough to pay her Medicare we have to pay it by check When we ask them to allow enough to pay it we were told No. Pay it the best way you can or not at all If we look at her record on line it shows they are deducting Medicare from her check yet making us pay for it as well We have not found an attorney that will handle this without a fee up front and we are not allowed to file the appeal They will not accept it Fortunately my VA disability kicked in and now we would not qualify under the appeal because of income Be very careful what SS tells you
HHaywood, May, 2014
When legal counsel is billed at hundreds of dollars an hour, it seems both cruel and ridiculous to continually suggest that people should talk to an attorney in a storm of financial catastrophe. Especially when lawyers oft times are only successful in collecting their fees.As for legal aid? Well, speaking of ridiculous.
BBill, May, 2014
We are actually a totally free service to consumers, and it costs quite a bit to pay our team to answer these questions. We share our opinions with the goal of being helpful. There are many questions that we receive that require competent, licensed legal advice. It would not only be improper, but it would be illegal, for us to offer legal advice when it is solicited.