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:
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:
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.
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.
Some common reasons Social Security might pay you too much include the following:
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:
(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.
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.
If Social Security overpaid your SSDI benefits and you're still receiving SSDI, the agency will withhold your monthly benefit payments until the overpayment is paid off. The withholding will start 30 days after you receive the notice of overpayment.
If losing your SSDI benefit for a month or more would create a financial hardship, you can contact Social Security and request that less than the full 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.
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 $914 in 2023—even if you normally receive more or less than that. So in 2023, the SSA could take up to $91 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.
If your SSI benefits were overpaid, but you currently only receive SSDI, Social Security will only withhold 10% of your monthly SSDI benefits to repay the overpayment.
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:
Learn more about negotiating a repayment plan with Social Security.
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.
If you can't afford to repay the overpayment, or you'd like to change the amount of money withheld from your SSDI or SSI check, you need to fill out form SSA-632-BK (Request for Waiver of Overpayment or Change in Repayment Rate). Social Security doesn't have a time limit for filing a request for a waiver.
When you're filling out the form, 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. Social Security might ask for proof of your income and expenses before deciding whether or not to grant the waiver.
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.
To appeal an SSI or SSDI overpayment notice, you'll need to either:
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 be able to explain it to Social Security.
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 (see above link). For Social Security to approve your waiver, you must prove two things:
If you file an appeal or 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 SSA denies your request for reconsideration or waiver, you can file an appeal.
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:
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.
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 April 27, 2023
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