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Reporting Earnings to Social Security: Common Myths Debunked


The sight of any letter from Social Security often causes your average SSI or SSDI recipient, from fear of what lies within, to want to cast the offending item, unopened, into the nearest recycling bin. Although there are some quite innocuous reasons why Social Security might wish to resume a correspondence with you there is no avoiding the fact that, more often than not, it’s going to mean something’s happened and it’s usually not nice. Amongst those unpleasant missives is the Notice of Overpayment. If you receive SSI you might receive this if there’s been a change in your living situation, your marital status, or if Social Security has become aware of some other income source. For most people, both SSI and SSDI recipients, you may get the overpayment letter if you haven’t been reporting your earnings regularly and in a timely manner.

Social Security does allow you to appeal their decision and sometimes you can show them that they’ve made a mistake, but there are a few myths out there that they’ve heard quite a few times and won’t save you from the overpayment:

I reported my job start so I don’t need to do anything more. You have a legal obligation to report any changes in your income to SSA so it’s right that you reported the job start. However, Social Security expects that you report your earnings on a regular basis as your income may change from month to month.

I’m on SSDI so I don’t have to report earnings. Although there is a greater emphasis placed on SSI recipients to report their earnings as any fluctuation in income are more likely to affect their SSI amount, SSDI recipients are also expected to report earnings regularly. This is especially the case if you are reporting any work incentives that would be reducing your countable income. These may include Impairment Related Work Expenses (IRWEs) which are required to be reported monthly. Without any record of those in any month SSA will assume that you have none for that time period and will calculate your eligibility without taking them into account.

I only have to report if I’m earning over a certain amount. As above, almost any kind of earned income will affect your SSI amount so you should report each month. For SSDI recipients your income may vary and could affect your eligibility especially if you are using work incentives.

It’s only my spouse who’s getting SSI. For SSI recipients Social Security looks at the income of both you and your spouse so you should report all earnings for the both of you each month.

I’m in the Ticket to Work program so work doesn’t affect my benefits. The Ticket to Work is a good work incentive and will help you access the resources you need to gain and maintain a job, and being enrolled in it may help you avoid medical reviews but doesn’t make you exempt from those SSA rules.

I’m paying Social Security taxes so they already know I’m working. Social Security does eventually become aware of your earnings but it doesn’t happen right away, or even soon after you start. If you haven’t been reporting your income it’s usually when they do finally get the information from the IRS that you might then get the aforementioned Notification of Overpayment.

The best way to avoid those overpayment letters is to bear in mind that Social Security is looking to you or those that assist you with your benefits to report your job start within 10 days of the end of the month in which you started work; and your earnings and your work incentive usage should be reported monthly and ideally within 10 days of the beginning of the month. For some more information on this go to: https://www.ssa.gov/ssi/spotlights/spot-reporting-earnings.htm