What is a Social Security Overpayment?
If the Social Security Administration (SSA) finds that you have gotten too much money in your Social Security benefit, they will send you a Notice of Overpayment. Social Security overpayments can happen for many reasons. Sometimes it is because you didn’t report something that could affect your eligibility, like how much you worked despite your disability, and sometimes it is for reasons only Social Security would know about.
What Can I Do if I am Overpaid?
The Notice of Overpayment will tell you how much you were overpaid. It will tell you to send the money back in 30 days.
Don't panic! The first thing to do is read the Notice carefully.
- Is the information on it correct?
- Are the amounts and dates correct?
Try to figure out if you were really overpaid the amount SSA says.
After you have figured out what the Notice says, there are several different ways to deal with it. You can do any one of these things or more than one at the same time. Here are your choices:
- Ask for Reconsideration. This is an appeal. It means you want SSA to look at your case again. Ask for a reconsideration if you think the amount of the overpayment is wrong or that the reason SSA gave for the overpayment is wrong.
- Ask for a Waiver. If you agree that you were overpaid, you can still ask SSA to waive it so that you don't have to pay it back. Ask for a waiver if you think that the overpayment was not your fault, and you can't afford to pay the money back.
- Ask for a Payment Arrangement. Do this if you think that the overpayment was your fault or you can afford to pay it back. You can tell SSA that you want to pay the money back a little at a time. That amount would be based on how much of your income you need for your basic necessities.
Whatever you decide to do, act quickly! Do not just put the notice aside. If you ignore the notice, SSA will start taking money out of your future checks. You have to ask for one of these things within 30 days from the date on the notice to make sure SSA doesn’t take money out of your future checks. Here is some more detailed information about each of the choices listed above:
If you do not think you were overpaid, or if the amount is not right, ask for a reconsideration of the overpayment. Here are the rules:
- Ask for reconsideration in writing at your local Social Security office or by filling out the request for reconsideration form or by asking online. Learn more about asking for reconsideration online.
- File your request within 60 days of getting the Notice of Overpayment. File your request within 30 days and SSA will stop taking the overpayment out of your benefits until after they reach a decision on your reconsideration.
If you request reconsideration, an SSA worker will review the papers in your file and make a new decision based on this file review. You will have an opportunity to present any new documents you want SSA to see.
After reconsideration, if SSA still says that you were overpaid, you can appeal that decision. See Step Three below for the next steps to take. However, SSA can start to get the overpayment back after the reconsideration, even if you appeal. If you win the appeal, SSA will have to pay you back.
Sometimes an overpayment happens because you did not report a change in your income or household to SSA. Maybe you did not know that you were supposed to report the change. Or maybe you did tell SSA and they didn't record it. If the overpayment was not your fault and you cannot afford to pay it back, you can ask for a waiver. A waiver means that even though you were overpaid, SSA will not ask you to give the money back.
Automatic Waivers for Small Overpayments
SSA must automatically waive your overpayment if:
- The amount is $1000 or less.
- You did not cause the overpayment by making a false statement to SSA, and
- You request waiver
If all 3 of these apply to you and your waiver is denied, remind the SSA worker that you qualify for an automatic waiver. If you live in Maine and the waiver is still denied, contact Pine Tree Legal right away. If you do not live in Maine, contact your local legal aid organization.
Steps in Applying for a Waiver of Overpayment
Get a form called Overpayment Recovery Request, (you can also ask for one at your local Social Security office). This form asks you questions about whether you reported the change and whether you knew you should report the change. It will also ask questions about your income. Remember, you must show both that the overpayment was not your fault and that you do not have enough money to pay back the overpayment.
Some of the reasons that may show that the overpayment was not your fault are:
- You have trouble reading. You did not know what you had to report to SSA.
- You have trouble remembering or understanding directions.
- You believed you reported every change that might have caused an overpayment.
- You were not told the reporting requirements.
- You applied for Social Security a long time ago and do not remember the reporting rules.
The form has a long section about your income and your monthly expenses. You should fill these out as carefully as you can. You should collect copies of any bills or receipts you have that show how much your expenses are. If SSA thinks your income is more than your expenses, they will want you to pay the overpayment back even if it wasn’t your fault.
If you need help filling out the form, ask a worker at SSA to help you.
If SSA does not give you a waiver, you can ask for a reconsideration. This means you want SSA to look at your waiver request again. Here are the rules:
- Ask for a reconsideration of your waiver in writing at your local Social Security office.
- File the request within 60 days of being turned down for a waiver. If you file your request within 30 days, SSA will not try to recover the overpayment until after your case is reviewed.
- an SSA worker will review the papers in your file and make a new decision based on this file review. You will have an opportunity to present any new evidence you want SSA to see.
If a waiver is still denied, you can ask for an Administrative Hearing. Ask for the hearing in writing within 60 days after your reconsideration was turned down, or by filling out the Request for Hearing by Administrative Law Judge form. This hearing is held by an Administrative Law Judge. At the hearing, you will have a chance to tell the judge your side of the story. You can have an attorney, paralegal or other representative to help you at the hearing. If you live in Maine, contact the Volunteer Lawyer's Project, Pine Tree Legal or a private lawyer or paralegal as soon as you appeal. If you do not live in Maine, contact your local legal aid organization.
Making a Payment Arrangement
If you have lost all of your appeals or have decided not to appeal any further, you must pay the money back. You can tell SSA that you want to repay it in small amounts each month that you can afford. SSA can withhold all of your Social Security benefits to repay the overpayment. However, unless there is fraud involved, they will usually let you pay it back in smaller amounts. You will have to pay back at least $10.00 a month. SSA tries to get the money back within 3 years. If you want to ask SSA to withhold smaller amounts, you have to fill out the same form you would fill out for requesting waiver.
Don't despair if you get a notice of overpayment from Social Security. Read the notice carefully and ask your SSA worker to help you. Always write down the name of anyone you talk to at SSA and the date of the conversation. If you live in Maine, you can also call Pine Tree Legal Assistance if you have questions. If you do not live in Maine, contact your local legal aid organization.
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