Social Security Matters – How do I handle a Social Security overpayment notice?

By Rusty Gloor, National Social Security Advisor at the AMAC Foundation, the nonprofit arm of the Association of Mature American Citizens

Dear Rusty: Things have been going well for me so far. I found a job and enjoyed going back to work after being retired. But I just got some bad news – a letter from Social Security saying I owe them $17,000 because when I went back to work I earned more than was allowed in 2021. They never mentioned that I told them I was going back to work! They are now saying they can’t pay me benefits in 2022 because I’m working. Well done SSA, since I told you when I got back to work! Anyway, I can’t repay them all at once, I have the chance to buy gas for groceries. They list items for a waiver, but I’m not sure which is best for me. I intended to move for health reasons, but if I paid them all at once, I have nothing left for the move. I’ve just started my research on how to handle this, but was hoping you’d get some insight. Signed: Worker not retired

Dear non-retired worker: We’re sorry to hear about the overpayment notice you received from Social Security. Here are my thoughts: the repayment options they gave you are probably a) paying the full amount or b) withholding your SS benefits until they collect what you owe, or c) requesting special payment terms because you do any of the above is hardship

At this point, you can request an overpayment waiver in one of two ways:

  • File form SSA-632, which basically says you accept that you were overpaid, but think you shouldn’t be required to pay it back because it wasn’t your fault (it was the security’s fault social because you informed them when you returned to work).
  • File Form SSA-634, which basically states that you agree that you were overpaid and want to repay it, but cannot afford to repay it in the manner offered.

I suggest you start by filing SSA-632, mainly because you informed them in August 2021 that you had returned to work and yet they continued to pay you, thus causing the overpayment themselves (see section 3, question.12 of SSA-632). While I can’t predict the likelihood of the entire amount being reversed, I think there’s a good chance they’ll offer you a special accommodation, as the overpayment was indeed the result of their own inaction after you have informed them that you have returned to work.

I suspect what happened is they just neglected to act after you informed them and then when they received your 2021 earnings data from the IRS they found out that you had earned more than the 2021 limit, which caused them to issue the overpayment notice. But their inaction should not result in financial hardship for you, which is why I suggest you apply for a waiver. Also be aware that if your waiver request is denied, you have the right to appeal that denial, including requesting a hearing by an independent administrative judge, or by the SS Appeals Board, or even in federal court if you want.

Either way, while your case is pending, they shouldn’t ask you to refund them – they should temporarily put the refund request on hold until your case is adjudicated.

Assuming you are still working full time, it is likely that your benefits are now suspended because your earnings are too high. For your information, you will later get a credit for all the months that your benefits are suspended, which will result in an increase in your benefit amount after you reach full retirement age (FRA). So you may, over time, be able to recover some of the SS benefits that you lost due to earnings before reaching full retirement age.

This article is intended for informational purposes only and does not represent legal or financial advice. It presents the opinions and interpretations of AMAC Foundation staff, trained and accredited by the National Social Security Association (NSSA). The NSSA and the AMAC Foundation and its staff are not affiliated with or endorsed by the Social Security Administration or any other government entity. To submit a question, visit our website (amacfoundation.org/programs/social-security-advisory) or write to us at [email protected]

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