How to Cope with Social Security Overpayments
What Can I Do if I am Overpaid?
If Social Security finds that you have gotten too much money in your disability or SSI check, they will send you a Notice of Overpayment. This may happen because you did not report a change to Social Security (SSA). For example, you may not have told SSA that you started working, or that your child moved out of your house, or that your child began getting child support. In some cases, you may have reported the change, but SSA delayed in decreasing your monthly check.
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. Here are your choices:
Ask for Reconsideration. This means you want SSA to look at your case again, either by looking at your file or by meeting with you in a conference or hearing. Ask for a reconsideration if you think the amount of the overpayment is wrong or the reason SSA gives 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.
Whatever you decide to do, act promptly! Do not just put the notice aside. If you ignore the notice, SSA will start taking money out of your future checks. Here is some more detailed information about each of the choices listed above.
More About Reconsideration
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:
If you receive SSI or Special Veterans Benefits and are not asking for reconsideration for medical reasons:
- Ask for reconsideration in writing at your local Social Security office or by filling out the request for reconsideration form.
- 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, and in the meantime they will repay any benefits withheld after the notice.
- You can ask for one of the following types of review:
- Case Review. An SSA worker will review the papers in your file and make a new decision based on this file review.
- Informal Conference. You meet with the person who will decide your case to go over your file, to give new information, and to tell your side of the story. (If your SSI benefits were changed due to medical reasons, see below)
- Formal Conference. You can bring witnesses to help present your case to the SSA worker. (This review is only used if your SSI or Special Veterans Benefits have been stopped or lowered for non-medical reasons).
Decide which type of review you want, depending on what additional information SSA needs to have. In most cases, you will probably want at least an informal conference, to present your story to the worker who will be reviewing your case.
If SSA told you they are stopping your disability payments for medical reasons or because you are no longer blind:
- Ask for reconsideration in writing at your local Social Security office or by filling out the request for reconsideration - disability cessation form.
- File your request within 60 days of getting the Notice of Overpayment.
- Ask for either a disability hearing or to have a disability hearing officer decide your reconsideration appeal. If you want the chance to speak on your own behalf, you may want to ask for a disability hearing. At a disability hearing you will have the opportunity to explain to a disability officer why you think your benefits should continue. You can also bring witnesses and others to speak in support of your reconsideration.
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.
More About Waivers
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 the waiver is still denied, contact Pine Tree Legal right away.
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 requirement.
- You applied for SSI a long time ago and do not remember the reporting rules.
Next, if you do not get SSI, list all your income and expenses on the part of the form that asks for financial information. If you are getting SSI, you do not need to give financial information. The rules assume that you cannot afford to repay. Just write on that section: "I am currently receiving SSI. It would be a financial hardship for me to pay the money back."
If you need help filling out the form, ask a worker at SSA to help you.
If SSA does not give you a waiver and you receive Social Security Retirement or Disability benefits, proceed directly to Step Three to request an administrative hearing. However, if you receive SSI, 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.
- You have the three choices for the type of review you want: case review, informal conference, or formal conference. (See above.)
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 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. Contact the Volunteer Lawyer's Project, Pine Tree Legal or a private lawyer or paralegal as soon as you appeal.
If you lose your hearing, you can ask to have your case reviewed by the Appeals Council. Tell the local SSA office that you want to appeal the Administrative Law Judge's decision. The Appeals Council is outside Washington, D.C. You do not have to go the Appeals Council to have your case reviewed. They will look over the records in your case to see if the judge at your hearing made a mistake.
If you lose at the Appeals Council level, you can take your case to court. You will need a lawyer to do this.
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. Tell SSA that you want to repay it in small amounts each month that you can afford. Otherwise, SSA may automatically take your whole Social Security disability check or 10% of your SSI check. Usually you will have to pay back at least $10.00 a month. SSA tries to get the money back within 3 years. However, they cannot take more than 10% of your SSI check, even if it takes more than 3 years.
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. You can also call Pine Tree Legal Assistance if you have questions.
Illinois Legal Aid Online has posted a comprehensive "toolkit" on dealing with Social Security overpayments. Although this is written for lawyers, it includes some more in depth information and may be useful to you. Since this is based on federal law, the procedures are the same from state to state.
Updated April 2009
PTLA # 742