For most people, receiving Social Security benefits proceeds without too much bureaucratic hassle. Once you're approved, the agency pays by direct deposit and keeps to a regular monthly schedule. Cost-of-living adjustments occur once a year, and if you're on Supplemental Security Income, there may be an occasional review of your assets and income. However, if Social Security suspects an overpayment, it will zealously pursue the return of its money, with the law and a vast federal bureaucracy on its side. Fortunately, there are a couple of ways to dispute an overpayment notice if you feel the agency's made a mistake or you can't afford to repay.
Overpayments can happen if there's a mistake in the benefit calculation, or the agency finds an error in your statement of assets or income (for "means-tested" Supplemental Security Income). If you've received an overpayment notice, you can expect Social Security to deducting up to 10 percent of your benefit after 30 days, demand payment in full, or stop your benefits altogether. If you don't repay the amount due one way or the other, it eventually can claim a portion of your federal tax refund, levy your bank account or garnish your wages. If you want to dispute the overpayment claim, of course Social Security has a couple of forms for that.
Filling out Forms
You can simply request a waiver of the overpayment by filing a Request for Waiver, a/k/a Form SSA-632-BK. You'll give your name and Social Security number, and check a box for the reason you believe the agency should waive its right to collect. The form gives you a chance to give a full explanation on the second page, and you can use as many additional pages as you need to explain your situation. In general, the more verifiable detail you can offer, and the more written evidence you have, the more likely a Social Security rep is to accept your explanation and approve the waiver.
A Request for Reconsideration is an alternative to the Request for Waiver. A "recon," in Social Security lingo, is simply a first request for the agency to administratively change a decision that it's made, whether it's for an overpayment, a benefit determination, a disability approval, or any other issue. The generic recon request is used for all challenges to these decisions; the deadline for filing is 60 days from the date of the original overpayment notice. You may be contacted by a rep to discuss the issue, or for further information, but in most cases you receive a denial in the mail in a few weeks.
If the Request for Reconsideration is denied, your next step is a Form HA-501, Request for Hearing by Administrative Law Judge. This form will result in a hearing at the local Office of Hearings and Appeals, which may take several months and in some locations over a year to schedule. The hearing gives you a chance to state your case, present evidence, and testify under oath. It requires preparation and should not be undertaken without an attorney, who will have to file an Appointment of Representative form. If the judge denies you, there is an additional Request for Review which will send the matter to the agency's Falls Church, Virginia office, where Social Security reviews all disputed hearing office decisions.
Check Your Records
To avoid the dreaded Social Security overpayment scenario, carefully review your benefit amount and make sure it's correct with an online calculator provided by Social Security. Let the agency know of any change in your household or employment situation if you're collecting Supplemental Security Income, and any change in your medical condition if you're on Social Security disability. Hoping that a mistake will be overlooked by a federal agency is a good way to create legal problems, as well as serious future financial damage.