If you are receiving Social Security disability benefits, the last thing you want is to get a letter in the mail telling you that you owe Social Security money. I have seem many individuals with overpayment notices for tens of thousands of dollars.
So, what can you do?
Read what Social Security sends you
This may sound obvious, but who wants to slog through the brochures and letters Social Security sends? Well, unless you want to be stuck with an overpayment, you do!
Social Security expects individuals to be diligent about complying with the requirements of the benefits they receive. Social Security sends out publications when benefits begin and it is a good idea to review them at least annually. Here are two critical ones:
- Reporting Your Wages When You Receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
- What You Need To Know When You Get Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
The second publication provides a list of things you must report to Social Security in plain english with links to further explanations.
Personally, I still see quite a number of people getting bitten because they missed some nuance of the Social Security system and Social Security can be very slow to correct errors which can result in
overpayments in the tens of thousands of dollars. So I am sympathetic to individuals facing an overpayment.
However, the best advice I can give to reduce an individual’s risk of an overpayment, is to read and follow the instructions and notice requirements provided in Social Security publications.
You may note that these publications list the Social Security 800 number as an acceptable way of providing Social Security with information. However, you want able to document your contact with Social Security. If an individual later has to go to hearing, how will they prove that they made a phone call to Social Security and what was said? While it is more difficult, sending a letter with delivery confirmation is often a better method from an evidentiary standpoint.
Request an annual meeting with Social Security
While it may not prevent an overpayment, it is a good idea to try to schedule an annual appointment with Social Security to confirm continuing benefit eligibility. Social Security technicians are trained in the ins and outs of benefit eligibility (even more so than attorneys because of the limitations of legal fees in Social Security matters). Of course, be sure to document the information provided, who the meeting is with, what was discussed, and the outcome.
Unfortunately, the local Social Security office might refuse to add an “extra” meeting to their already overflowing schedule. Sadly, this puts an individual into the position of trying to do a self audit. This is a bad solution because a regular person cannot be expected to know all the eligibility requirements of a trained Social Security technician.
That said, an individual should at least call Social Security to determine the maximum gross (pre-tax and pre-deduction) earnings his or her family can earn and still remain eligible for benefits. Then take a hard look at whether the income is above or below that amount. Being below does not mean a family is safe, but being above that amount is certainly a red flag.