Gathering some thoughts here as I prepare to do a little caving in Slovenia! Under Slovenia resides over 8,000 plus caves. I’m traveling with a local guide to explore some of these fascinating and fantastic otherworldly spaces. In Slovenia, you can have one eye on the sea (the Mediterranean), then look in the other direction and be surrounded by high mountains (the Alps). As you can tell a little bit by my photo, this country also has its share of forest!
Here’s a question I get asked all the time: What are social security overpayments? For Social Security beneficiaries, this is an important thing to be aware of and if you can, AVOID!
When the Social Security Administration (SSA) pays a beneficiary more than is due, the beneficiary needs to work with SSA to settle the resulting overpayment.
Causes of Overpayments
Causes of overpayments vary depending on the SSA benefit program involved. In the Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) program, causes include unreported substantial work or the death of a family member receiving benefits. With Supplemental Security Income (SSI) overpayments can be caused by numerous factors including earnings from work, marriage or divorce, living arrangement changes, admission to or discharge from an institution, and absence from the United States.
No one wants to pay back money already received or spend the time needed to settle an overpayment. So doing what is needed to avoid overpayments is well worth the effort. Mainly, reporting changes that can affect benefits in a timely and accurate manner to SSA can prevent most overpayments.
Reporting also fulfills a beneficiary’s reporting responsibility which is important if a waiver is requested (as explained below.) Normally SSA considers a report timely if made by a beneficiary within 10 days after the end of the month in which an event or change occurs.
In most cases SSA eventually discovers changes that affect a person’s benefits, even without direct beneficiary reporting. SSA has automated computer communication with numerous federal and state government agencies that reveal many changes.
What Happens When Overpayments Occur?
Even when a beneficiary reports all the needed information accurately and on time, an overpayment may still sometimes occur. Whenever an overpayment does arise, a beneficiary has options and rights in how it is settled.
Once SSA identifies an overpayment, they mail the beneficiary an official notice that shows the amount of overpaid benefits, the times periods involved, the cause of the overpayment, and the beneficiary’s rights and options.
If a beneficiary disagrees with the existence or the amount of the overpayment, he/she can request an appeal asking SSA to change its decision. By appealing a beneficiary has the opportunity to explain and present evidence why the overpayment is incorrect to an SSA official who did not make the initial overpayment decision.
Another option is for the beneficiary to request a waiver of the overpayment. This is not disputing the fact that an overpayment occurred but rather asking SSA to disregard (waive) the overpayment so no repayment is required. For SSA to grant a waiver, certain conditions have to be met.
The first condition is that a beneficiary must meet is being without fault in causing the overpayment. If a beneficiary has fulfilled his or her reporting responsibilities by informing SSA of changes in an accurate and timely manner, SSA will normally find that the person is without fault. SSA also considers factors such as age, level of understanding, education, language limitations, history of being overpaid, and any possible misinformation the beneficiary may have received from SSA.
The second condition that a beneficiary must meet can be any one of the three following conditions: 1) recovery of the overpaid amount would deprive the beneficiary of income needed for ordinary and necessary living expenses, or 2) recovery would be unfair regardless of the beneficiary’s financial status, or 3) the overpayment amount is small enough that recovery would not be worthwhile for SSA.
If an appeal or a waiver is not possible and the overpaid amount must be refunded, recovery can occur in various ways depending on the circumstances. If a beneficiary also has an underpayment, SSA will offset the overpayment by the underpaid amount. If an overpaid person is still receiving payments, SSA can withhold the overpayment from the ongoing benefits; this may be the entire monthly benefit until the amount is repaid or an agreed upon amount per month over a period of time. SSA may do cross-program recovery which is withholding money from a beneficiary’s ongoing SSDI benefits to recover an SSI overpayment or vice versa. In certain cases SSA may agree to a compromise settlement for less than the full amount of the overpayment. And when a person is no longer entitled to benefits and does not settle an overpayment, SSA may withhold the amounts from future Social Security benefits (retirement or disability) or from federal income tax refunds.
What has been given here is general information about SSA overpayments. For more extensive and detailed information, see the SSA website (http://www.ssa.gov/pubs/10098.html), contact your local SSA office (https://secure.ssa.gov/apps6z/FOLO/fo001.jsp), talk to a benefits specialist if possible (http://eri-wi.org/benefits-specialists), or do a web search for the multiple sites that discuss overpayments.
Be seeing you soon!