What Happens If Social Security Finds an Overpayment?

If Social Security overpays your disability benefits, you’ll be expected to pay it back. Learn about your rights and responsibilities if you receive an overpayment notice.

By , J.D. · Albany Law School

If you receive Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability benefits, and Social Security pays you more than you're entitled to, it's called an "overpayment." Social Security overpayments are usually due to one of the following:

  • changes in your living circumstances
  • changes in your income, or
  • the Social Security Administration (SSA) not having enough information about your situation.

If Social Security overpays you and discovers the error, you'll receive a notice of the overpayment. If you have a lawyer or nonlawyer representative, Social Security will also notify them of the overpayment. The notice will include:

  • an explanation of why Social Security believes you've been overpaid
  • how much you were overpaid
  • your repayment options, and
  • your right to appeal and request a "waiver" of repayment.

Read on to learn more about how Social Security collects overpayments and your rights and responsibilities when the SSA says you've been paid too much.

What Causes a Social Security Overpayment?

Overpayments can occur for several reasons. Occasionally, Social Security makes a mistake. But more often, the SSI or SSDI recipient did (or didn't do) something that caused the overpayment.

Why Does Social Security Overpay Benefits?

Some common reasons Social Security might pay you too much include the following:

  • you're receiving SSI, and you didn't report changes to your income or resources that should have caused your benefits to be reduced or stopped
  • your medical condition has improved so much that you're no longer disabled, but you don't tell Social Security, or
  • you went back to work without telling Social Security and you earned too much to continue receiving your regular benefit amount (unless you returned to work for a trial period).

What Can I Do to Prevent Social Security Overpayments?

The easiest way to avoid receiving an overpayment of benefits is to report all relevant changes to Social Security as soon as you can. You should tell Social Security if your disability has improved and report any changes to your:

  • finances
  • employment status
  • marital status, or
  • living situation.

(Learn more about the changes you must report to Social Security.)

If the amount of your monthly benefit increases unexpectedly, and you haven't received an explanation from Social Security, you should contact the agency and make sure you're receiving the correct amount. If you've been overpaid, it's better to catch it early rather than waiting and having to pay back a lot more money.

How Does Social Security Collect Overpayments?

The repayment options available to you depend on the type of benefit that was overpaid and whether or not you're still receiving SSDI or SSI benefits.

How Do I Have to Repay an SSDI Overpayment?

If Social Security overpaid your SSDI benefits and you're still receiving SSDI, the agency will withhold 10% of your monthly benefit payments until the overpayment is paid off. The withholding will start 30 days after you receive the notice of overpayment. (Before March 25, 2024, the SSA could withhold up to 100% of your monthly payments until the overpayment was repaid.)

If losing any part of your SSDI benefit for a month or more would create a financial hardship, you can contact Social Security and request that a lower amount be withheld. If Social Security approves your request, a lower amount will be withheld each month until you've paid back the entire overpayment.

How Do I Have to Repay an SSI Overpayment?

If Social Security overpaid your SSI disability benefits and you're still receiving SSI, Social Security will withhold 10% of your monthly benefit each month to repay the overpayment. But the 10% withholding is usually based on the federal maximum benefit rate, which is $943 in 2024—even if you normally receive more or less than that. So in 2024, the SSA could take up to $94 from each benefit check until the overpayment is paid off.

Social Security won't start withholding your SSI benefits until at least 60 days after you receive the overpayment notice. Just as with SSDI overpayments, you can contact Social Security and ask that more or less money be withheld. But again, Social Security has to approve any change to the amount.

Do I Have to Repay an Overpayment If I'm No Longer Receiving Benefits?

If you no longer receive any benefits from Social Security, you'll have to repay the overpayment out of your own money. You have two choices. You can either:

  • send a check for the full amount to Social Security within 30 days of receiving the notice of overpayment, or
  • call Social Security to set up a monthly repayment plan by:
    • speaking with a representative at 800-772-1213, or
    • use the automated system at 855-807-8807.

Learn more about negotiating a repayment plan with Social Security.

How Far Back Can Social Security Go for an Overpayment?

If Social Security overpaid your disability benefits, you can expect the agency to attempt to collect that money. And you can sometimes be required to repay even very old SSI or SSDI overpayments—sometimes from years ago. But there are limits to how far back Social Security can go for an overpayment.

While there's no Social Security overpayment statute of limitations per se, the agency can only collect an overpayment if it's assessed in a "timely fashion." Under Social Security's rules, the agency must find the overpayment, determine that you're responsible for repaying it, and send you a notice of overpayment within the time frames allowed for reopening a claim decision. For SSI, that's generally two years, and for SSDI, it's four years.

However, the SSA is allowed to attempt to collect overpayment debts that are much older than two or four years, if the agency initially sent out the overpayment notice within the above time limits.

What if I Don't Agree With the Social Security Overpayment Notice?

If you receive a notice that you've been overpaid and you don't believe you were actually overpaid, or you disagree with the amount of overpayment, you can file an appeal. In your appeal, you must explain why you believe you haven't been overpaid or why the amount of overpayment is wrong.

Appeal the overpayment. To appeal an SSI or SSDI overpayment notice, you'll need to do either one of the following:

You must file your request for reconsideration within 60 days of receiving your original overpayment notice. If you miss the 60-day deadline, you must have a good reason and you must be able to explain it to Social Security.

Request a waiver. If you receive a Social Security overpayment notice and agree that you were overpaid the amount stated on the notice, but you believe that you shouldn't have to pay the money back, you can file a request for waiver with Form SSA-632-BK. For Social Security to approve your waiver, you must prove two things:

  • the overpayment wasn't your fault (see 20 C.F.R. §416.552), and
  • having to pay it back would be unfair or cause you financial hardship.

(If your only income is from SSI, Social Security will automatically agree that paying back an overpayment would be a hardship—or in Social Security terms, would "defeat the purpose of the Social Security Act" because it would deprive you of the income needed for your living expenses.)

If you file an appeal or request for waiver, Social Security will delay taking money out of your monthly Social Security benefits or trying to collect the money for repayment until the agency decides whether the appeal or waiver will be granted.

If the waiver request is denied. If the SSA denies your request for reconsideration or waiver, you can file an appeal of the denial of the waiver request.

What if I Can't Afford to Repay the SSA Overpayment?

If you simply can't afford to repay the overpayment, you can file a waiver request, but if you can't show that the overpayment wasn't your fault, Social Security is likely to deny the waiver.

Social Security doesn't have a time limit for filing a request for a waiver. When you're filling out Form SSA-632-BK, you'll be asked to prove that the overpayment wasn't your fault and that paying it back would be unfair or cause you financial difficulties (see above). The form will ask for information about your income and expenses.

If you know you'll have to repay an overpayment but you'd like to change the amount of money withheld from your SSDI or SSI check, you need to fill out form SSA-634, Request for Change in Overpayment Recovery Rate, with information about your income and assets.

What Happens If You Don't Repay a Social Security Overpayment?

If you don't repay the overpayment, Social Security can take several steps to recover the disability overpayment under the law. Some of the actions Social Security can take include:

  • taking your federal tax refund check
  • taking a percentage from ("garnishing") your work paycheck before you get it, if you work
  • taking future SSI or SSDI benefits, or
  • reporting your nonpayment to a credit bureau.

Before you ignore a Social Security overpayment notice, you might consider talking with a disability lawyer about your options—especially if you have to repay a large overpayment. Learn how to find a lawyer to take your overpayment case.

Can Social Security Overpayments Be Discharged in Bankruptcy?

Disability overpayments that Social Security is trying to collect can generally be discharged in bankruptcy—meaning you wouldn't have to repay the money. But there's an exception to this rule.

If Social Security believes you accepted the overpayments fraudulently—that is, you cashed the checks or spent the extra benefits deposited in your account knowing you weren't entitled to them—the agency is likely to fight back. Social Security can file a complaint in bankruptcy court objecting to the discharge.

In most overpayment cases, Social Security objections aren't successful, so you'll likely be able to discharge the overpayment. But in clear cases of fraud—like when someone cashes their deceased parent's Social Security check or obtains a Social Security number fraudulently—it's unlikely the bankruptcy court will discharge the overpayment. And you could even face criminal charges.

For more information, see Nolo's article on discharging a Social Security overpayment in bankruptcy.

Updated March 21, 2024

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