Dear Rusty: I have a problem with Social Security. They told me if I went over the annual earned income limit they would withhold $1 for every $2 I went over. But they did not tell me about the monthly rule for the first year of retirement and now they want $13,000. I am a part time bus driver with irregular hours and cannot afford this. Can you help?
Signed: Feeling Wronged by SS
Dear Feeling Wronged: The so-called “first year rule” is one which surprises many who claim benefits early and continue to work. That rule says that if your monthly income, in your first year after your benefits start, exceeds a certain limit ($1470 in 2019), you are not entitled to SS benefits for that month. In your specific situation there are two things in play that I suggest you focus on.
First, you should immediately request a repayment plan on the grounds that you cannot afford to repay the entire amount right away and that forfeiting your benefits until the $13,000 is repaid will result in a hardship for you. Although the Overpayment Notice you received asked you to refund the money within 30 days, it also suggested repayment options if you cannot afford to do so. I recommend you contact Social Security immediately to arrange a repayment plan which is affordable for you. You can do this by submitting form SSA-632, which you can find at this link: https://www.ssa.gov/forms/ssa-632.pdf. Be aware that if you don’t get a favorable initial response from your first contact with Social Security, you have the right to appeal at several levels, including a review of your case by an independent Administrative Law Judge. But please note that it might take up to 60 days for Social Security to complete your repayment plan request. If you do not get action within that timeframe you should contact them again to determine your status.
Next, I suggest that, since Social Security informed you of the annual limit but neglected to inform you of the rule which limits your monthly income in your first year of early retirement, you may also have grounds to request a waiver of the entire overpayment. Social Security’s own rules state that if your overpayment was caused by misinformation received from Social Security, you may be found “without fault” for any overpayment in your first year of early retirement. You may even want to download Social Security’s own rules on this topic, which you can access at this link: https://secure.ssa.gov/poms.nsf/lnx/0202250061. The onus will be on you to prove that the overpayment occurred as a result of misinformation supplied by Social Security, and you will need the name of the person(s) who supplied the incorrect information as well as the date and time. And as with all contact you have with the Social Security Administration, you should keep a complete written record of each transaction. In resolving this issue, you can and should use the appeals process if necessary, and you may even want to consider asking your local Congressional Representative to intercede on your behalf.
This article is intended for information purposes only and does not represent legal or financial guidance. It presents the opinions and interpretations of the AMAC Foundation’s staff, trained and accredited by the National Social Security Association (NSSA). NSSA and the AMAC Foundation and its staff are not affiliated with or endorsed by the Social Security Administration or any other governmental entity. To submit a question, visit our website (amacfoundation.org/programs/social-security-advisory) or email us at [email protected].