The Disability Law Center

CAN SOCIAL SECURITY GARNISH MY WAGES TO COLLECT AN OLD OVERPAYMENT?

Beginning on January 22, 2004, the Social Security Administration (SSA) can garnish a worker=s wages in order to collect an outstanding overpayment of social security or SSI benefits.  There are limits as to when and how much of a worker=s weekly wages can be garnished.

Whose Wages Can Be Garnished?

The new garnishment rules do not apply to wages paid by the U.S. government.  If you have been laid off or fired (involuntarily separated) from work and have been unemployed for 12 months your wages cannot be garnished until you have again been working for at least 12 consecutive months.  If your social security or SSI benefits ended because you began working and are within your Aextended period of eligibility,@ Aextended period of medicare eligibility,@ or are using a Ticket to Work your wages cannot be garnished.  SSA cannot garnish your wages if you are still receiving social security or SSI benefits. 

When Can SSA Begin To Garnish My Wages?

Before SSA can garnish your wages SSA must have completed its Abilling cycle@ by having sent your notice of the overpayment, a reminder notice and a past due notice.   If you have either appealed the overpayment (filed a Request for Reconsideration) or requested waiver of the overpayment SSA cannot begin to garnish your wages until they have issued a decision on your request.

If you made an installment payment plan and have failed to make two consecutive payments, SSA can begin to garnish your wages.

What Will I Be Told Before Garnishment Begins?

SSA must send you a notice letting you know that your wages will be garnished in 60 days unless you pay the overpayment in full, set up a payment plan to repay the overpayment, request a review of the overpayment, or request a waiver of the overpayment.  If you do not respond to this notice within 60 days garnishment will begin unless you had Agood cause@ for making a late request. 

How Much Money Can SSA Take From My Wages?

Each pay day SSA can take up to 15% of your Adisposable income@ or an amount equal to 30 times the minimum wage, whichever is less.  ADisposable income@ is any income left over after deductions for health insurance, taxes (federal, state, and local), and court ordered deductions (child support).  SSA can reduce the amount if Afinancial hardship@ exists.  AFinancial hardship@ exists if  you are unable to meet your ordinary and necessary living expenses if your wages are garnished at the higher amount.  If fraud is involved in the overpayment SSA does not have to reduce the garnishment amount.  You can make a request to have the amount lowered at any time after garnishment begins but if you make this request within 60 days of receiving the garnishment notice, no garnishment will begin until SSA responds to your request.

For further information contact the Disability Law Center, (617)723-8455, (800)872-9992,  TTY (617)227-9464, (800)381-0577, www.dlc-ma.org


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