Overpaid Disability Benefits by Social Security: Now What?

Today’s post comes from guest author Roger Moore, from Rehm, Bennett & Moore.

What can I do if the Social Security Administration (SSA) says I have been overpaid disability benefits?

This is a very common problem, unfortunately. There are a number of factors that cause these issues to come up so frequently.

First, the rules about how much one can make differ, depending on what type of disability benefit is received. Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) recipients can earn over $1,000 per month without jeopardizing their monthly benefit. But almost every dollar earned by Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients can affect the amount of their monthly benefit, as this benefit is partially based upon a recipient’s financial situation. These amounts can change over time.

Second, there are many different rules about when you can earn money from working above what is called the substantial gainful employment level and not jeopardize your continued entitlement to disability benefit. It’s difficult to summarize all of the circumstances, yet alone know all of the rules, for a claimant. What’s more, simply providing the SSA your wages doesn’t absolve you from having to repay overpayments. The SSA doesn’t look at this information on a regular basis. Years later, you may get a “Dear John” letter advising you that you were overpaid thousands of dollars.

Finally, you may simply get wrong or bad information from someone when you meet with or speak with the SSA. It’s important to document when you spoke with the person and who that person was. If possible, get them to put their advice in writing.

When faced with an overpayment, there are two things you should always do. First, appeal the determination that an overpayment occurred in the first place.  Contact the SSA within 65 days of the overpayment letter, and explain that you’d like to appeal that determination. Second, you should file a request for waiver of the overpayment. Even if an overpayment was technically made, the claimant must show initially that they were not at fault in causing the overpayment. If not, then they must also prove one of the following:

  1. Would recovery of the overpayment be against equity and good conscience?
  2. Would recovery of an overpayment defeat the purpose of Title II of the Social Security Act?

Recovery would be against equity and good conscience if an individual changed his or her position or relinquished a valuable right because of the overpayment itself. Recovery of an overpayment would defeat the purpose of the Act if a person is deprived of income required for ordinary and necessary living expenses, which are generally defined as fixed living expenses, medical expenses, child support, and miscellaneous expenses reasonably considered as part of the individual’s standard of living.

The lesson to be learned is to not be too trusting of the SSA, document your contacts, and get to know the rules about how much you can earn without jeopardizing your entitlement to continued benefits.  Also, request a waiver if an overpayment occurs.