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SSA announces that it will stop collecting certain debts

When the Social Security Administration (SSA) makes a mistake, one would understandably assume that the agency would take responsibility for that mistake and fix it without making the situation worse for those whom the mistake has affected. Unfortunately, when it comes to overpayment of Social Security benefits and Social Security Disability benefits (SSD), this straightforward approach to accountability is not employed.

When the SSA unintentionally overpays a beneficiary, the SSA then attempts to collect the overpayment back from the beneficiary. This situation can be unquestionably frustrating, simply because many beneficiaries live on fixed incomes and have little or no savings. As a result, beneficiaries may find it difficult or impossible to repay the overpayment back to the SSA once these funds have been received and spent. The responsibility for the SSA's mistake is therefore not placed on the SSA but on the beneficiaries affected by that mistake.

Over time, the SSA has developed a policy that it vigorously pursues repayment of these mistaken overpayments. The SSA has been so aggressive in attempting to collect these funds that it has insisted that the heirs of beneficiaries owe the agency money, even after the beneficiary has passed away.

Thankfully, the SSA recently announced a policy shift in regards to this issue. From now on, the agency will stop attempting to collect overpayment debts that are more than 10 years old. This shift will place at least some of the responsibility for overpayments back on the SSA where it belongs. In addition, it will hopefully prevent the harassment of heirs after beneficiaries have passed on.

Source: The New York Times, "U.S. Halts Effort to Collect Old Social Security Debts," Annie Lowrey, April 14, 2014

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