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Three Principles for Handling Overpayments 

by Douglas M. Smith, Attorney at Law

Any questionable payment from SSA could be an overpayment. In our office we define a "questionable payment" as an extra payment, a payment with an amount that varies from your proper benefit amount, or any payment that gives you an uneasy feeling. When beneficiaries tell us that they have received questionable payments from SSA (either by check or direct deposit to their bank account), we strongly suggest that they adhere to three ironclad principles:

Rule One: Do not spend questionable payments. Beneficiaries must not spend any questionable payment until they have obtained convincing confirmation from SSA that the money is theirs to spend. See Rule Three for more details.

Rule Two: Keep a record of payments received and changes in benefits. We also suggest that beneficiaries keep a notebook devoted solely to recording every Social Security benefit payment received, and to keeping all SSA written materials that concern their benefits. Referring to their notebooks allows them to decide quickly whether a payment is extra, or has a larger amount than it should.

Rule Three. Get written confirmation before spending questionable payments. If you think you may have received an overpayment, or just have an uneasy feeling, ask your local SSA office for written confirmation that the money is yours to spend. Having SSA's advice in writing may help you get a waiver if SSA tells you to spend the money, is wrong, and demands the money back.

If SSA declines to give you written confirmation, you can:

  1. return the payment to the local SSA office and get a receipt (Section 169 of the Social Security Manual says that they must take it); or
  2. contact your U.S. Senator or Member of Congress, and ask their caseworker who handles Social Security questions to help you get written confirmation from SSA of whether the questionable payment is yours to spend. (The switchboard for both Members of Congress and Senators is 202/224-3121.)

© Douglas M. Smith 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003

[Physicians' Disability Services, Inc.]
Pds-Third Floor Publishing, LLC
Douglas M. Smith, Editor

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Last Revised Tuesday, April 13, 2004, 5:51 PM EST

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