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What if my Social Security benefit is the wrong amount?


Mistaken Social Security payments are rare, but with the Social Security Administration (SSA) delivering monthly benefits to nearly 71.5 million people, they do happen.

In the 2022 fiscal year, Social Security paid out around $1.2 trillion in retirement, survivors and disability benefits. That included just under $2 billion in overpayments to beneficiaries, or 0.17 percent of total outlays, according to a recent SSA payment-integrity report to the federal Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

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If you believe you were either overpaid or underpaid by Social Security, tell the SSA as soon as possible. Failing to report the error in a timely way can lead to months of incorrect payments along with the eventual hassle of sorting it out.

Incorrect payments happen for a number of reasons:

  • The SSA might be at fault — a computational error, or a failure to obtain or act on information relevant to a recipient's eligibility or benefit amount.
  • A beneficiary might have neglected to notify Social Security of, or provided incorrect data about, a life event that can affect benefits, such as a change in income or a death in the family.
  • Your case might not be finished. If a beneficiary appeals a loss or reduction of benefits, the SSA is required in some instances to keep paying the amount in question until the case is decided. If the appeal fails, then the beneficiary was getting the “wrong” amount during this time.

Mistakes are most prevalent in Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and, especially, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), the benefits that serve people with disabilities.

Eligibility for these programs is subject to strict limits on work activity and, in the case of SSI, ceilings on income and financial resources. Unreported or unidentified income and assets are leading causes of payment errors, according to Social Security, which reported to OMB that SSI recipients were overpaid by $4 billion in fiscal year 2022, accounting for 7.2 percent of total payments under the program.

If you've been overpaid

If Social Security paid you too much, you generally have to pay the money back. You will receive a notice explaining the error and outlining your options and rights.

Typically, SSA withholds some or all of your corrected monthly payment until the debt is settled. If you no longer are receiving benefits, the agency seeks a lump sum refund, which you can repay online using the Treasury Department's Pay.gov service. You'll find information on using Pay.gov on your billing notice.

SSA has the authority to garnish wages or income tax refunds if you don't comply. But it also can work with you to set up a monthly payment plan you can afford.

You can request an outright waiver of the debt by filing Form SSA-632. You'll have to demonstrate that the overpayment was not your fault and that repayment would cause financial hardship.

If you don't think you were overpaid, you can appeal using Form SSA-561-U2. You have 60 days from the date you receive the overpayment notice to file your appeal.

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You'll find more information in the Social Security publication Overpayments.

If you've been underpaid

If you get a benefit payment you believe was too little, call SSA at 800-772-1213 or visit a Social Security office. SSA will investigate the matter and compensate you for any underpayment in a lump sum or through increased monthly payments. For office visits, Social Security recommends calling in advance and scheduling an appointment to avoid long waits.

The chief cause of underpayments is computational or clerical errors, often arising from inaccurate information in a beneficiary's earnings history. That's the year-by-year listing in Social Security's records of how much you made over your career and the foundation for computing your benefit.

You can check your earnings record online at any time if you have a My Social Security account. If you spot discrepancies or omissions, report them to Social Security to seek a correction.

You'll want to assemble proof of earnings such as W-2 forms, tax returns and pay stubs. For more details, see the SSA publication How to Correct Your Social Security Earnings Record.

Keep in mind

The time limit for correcting an entry in your earnings record is three years, three months and 15 days after the tax year in question. After that, Social Security will not make revisions except in a handful of circumstances, among them inaccuracies resulting from fraud, mechanical or clerical errors; wages omitted from an employer's tax filings; and earnings credited to the wrong person or time period.

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