If you receive a letter from the Social Security Administration notifying you that your Supplemental Security Income benefits have been overpaid, it may come as a shock. It’s not something to ignore, though — you should get started on resolving the situation right away. If you don’t respond to it in a timely fashion, it could jeopardize your SSI benefits.

As with any request for money, the first thing you should do is make sure it’s not a scam. Keep in mind, however, that the hardworking people at the Social Security Administration do make mistakes. The mistake may mean you were indeed overpaid and need to pay back that overage. Or, it could be that you we not overpaid but the SSA mistakenly thinks you have been.

Among the common reasons for an overpayment of SSI benefits are these three. First, your benefits may have been miscalculated. This is not very likely to be the case if you’re a long-term recipient of SSI. Second, a duplicate check or electronic transfer may have been issued. Or, your situation may have changed — you may have begun receiving income from some source, and the Administration believes you no longer qualify for the level of benefits you’ve been receiving.

Either way, there is only a short time for you to respond. The deadline should be listed right there in the letter, and it is calculated from the date of the letter.

Let’s start with the first scenario.

If you believe that you have indeed been overpaid, through no fault of your own and you can’t afford to repay it, the Social Security Administration wants to work with you. If that’s the case, even if you disagree with the amount the SSA says you were overpaid, you should file a form called a “Request for Waiver and Recovery Questionnaire.” As part of that request, you will need to show that you were not at fault for the overpayment.

If you don’t think you were overpaid — or if the amount is wrong — you should file a “Request for Reconsideration” form. (If you were overpaid but think the SSA is wrong about the amount, file both forms.)

If you don’t receive the help you need after filing those forms, you can still appeal. For more information on any of these processes, the Social Security Administration’s website at ssa.gov is very informative.

Source: Ventura County Star, “Senior Advocate: How to respond to Social Security overpayment notice,” Betty Berry, March 19, 2013