Will They Garnish My Tax Return if I Owe Social Security?

by Leigh Thompson

    Paying into the Social Security system during your working years entitles you to a check each month from the Social Security Administration once you hit retirement age -- a minimum of age 62 for a reduced benefit. The SSA calculates your benefit based on your primary insurance amount, which averages your highest 35 years of covered earnings. If the SSA overcalculates -- and overpays -- your earnings, you are required to pay the money back. The SSA may garnish your tax return to collect the overpayment if you do not make other arrangements.

    The SSA issues a letter advising of the overpayment as soon as it is detected. The letter states the amount of the overpayment and the methods the SSA intends to take to recollect the monies owed. If you do not agree with the overpayment or the terms of repayment, you may appeal the ruling or request a modification of the amount withheld in repayment.

    For Social Security recipients, expect the SSA to withhold your entire benefit check until the repayment is completed. Recipients of Supplement Security Income -- disability benefits -- can expect a 10 percent reduction in the benefit check until it is paid in full. If you no longer receive Social Security income, you must pay the overpayment directly to the SSA as soon as possible. If you are unable to pay the entire balance, you must make payment arrangements.

    If you fail to respond to the letter, pay the bill or make arrangements, the SSA begins collection efforts against you. The Internal Revenue Service offers a Treasury Offset Program to government agencies to collect past-due debts directly from your tax refund. The IRS offsets the amount you owe by your tax refund. After the debt is paid, the IRS sends the remainder to you. If your refund does not cover the amount owed, your next year’s refund may also be garnished. The SSA may also garnish income checks to force repayment on an SSA debt. The IRS notifies you in writing if your tax return is offset with the contact information of the receiving agency. You must contact the receiving agency about the offset. The IRS is only an intermediary in the situation and cannot give you details.

    You have 60 days after receiving your overpayment notification to appeal the decision. You must submit Form SSA-561 to the Social Security Administration along with the reason you are appealing the overpayment -- such as a disagreement in the amount owed or your explanation of why you did not receive an overpayment. You may also request a waiver of collection on the debt due to financial hardship or by providing proof that the overpayment was not your fault. You may submit Form SSA-632 to request a waiver. You may be asked to document your income and expenses to prove a financial hardship. Both forms are available online or by calling the Social Security Administration at 1-800-772-1213.

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    About the Author

    Leigh Thompson began writing in 2007 and specializes in creating content for websites. She has been published online in various capacities. Thompson has an associate degree in information technology from the University of Kansas and is working on a bachelor's degree in business and personal finance.

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