Social Security is clawing back $21.6 Billion in mistaken overpayments to elderly retirees and disabled people because the agency miscalculated benefits, often for decades! It could happen to you – or your parents. Social Security has unchecked power. If you don’t repay their mistakes, they simply stop sending your monthly benefit!
I uncovered this story when I wrote about a widow named “Ruth”, who contacted me earlier this year. She told me she had received a letter from Social Security demanding immediate repayment of $88,734. She was just recovering from triple bypass surgery, and was frantic that she would lose her home.
I naively assumed this was a horrible mistake, and figured I could easily contact Social Security to get the problem resolved. But their communications department kept dodging my questions, so I went ahead and wrote the column (searchable at my website TerrySavage.com). To my complete surprise, I was inundated with emails from around the country – people who had also received these demand letters, and who suddenly stopped receiving their monthly benefit.
By the way, if you want to meet “Ruth” please click on this link to a WBBM-TV (Channel 2 Chicago) feature we did with Ruth, just after the 60 Minutes story aired!
Those horror stories have now turned into a book: Social Security Horror Stories: Protect Yourself from the System and Avoid Clawbacks! (Please click on that link to purchase the book.) My co-author is famed economist Laurence Kotlikoff, who previously co-wrote the best selling “Get What’s Yours From Social Security.”
And they turned into a featured story on 60 Minutes, where Larry and I were interviewed about the magnitude of these clawbacks. We introduced them to some of the hundreds of people who had written to us, and their stories were featured on the program. You can watch it, and get a link to buy the book on Amazon, at our new website: www.SocialSecurityHorrorStories.com.
These terribly sad stories are about disabled people, retired schoolteachers and public servants, widows – and yes, even orphans being cut off from the benefits that they counted on for rent and food. Because that’s the power of Social Security. They made the mistakes, but they are not punished. Instead, they arbitrarily cut off benefits without a hearing.
The Amount of Clawbacks
When we contacted Social Security, they refused to explain the extent of this huge clawback. Only when I read the annual Trustee’s report did it become clear that over the years Social Security had made more than $21 billion mistaken overpayments. Approximately 1 million people will receive a clawback letter this year!
We all know that Social Security has financial problems down the road. But this is about today’s horror stories. As each person who received a clawback letter soon found out, there is no way to get in touch with the Agency to find out the source of the problem, the accounting for these huge amounts (ranging as high as $300,000, and some going back 40 years) that they are demanding be repaid.
Social Security’s records and calculations are a mess. They ignore emails, don’t respond to terrified beneficiaries trying to get help, and routinely deny waivers (which low-level employees are empowered to give). It’s almost impossible to get a hearing – and when there is a hearing it is in front of an administrative law judge who is paid by Social Security, and encouraged to deny the pleas for relief.
Social Security’s Scams
The clawbacks aren’t the only shame of Social Security. As Larry Kotlikoff has written extensively, there are other “scams” and misleading advice that are endemic to the Social Security system. Their representatives encourage claimants to make expensive mistakes, taking benefits at the wrong time, and costing the retiree a small fortune over their retirement lifetime.
There’s the “widows scam” – where the Social Security employee checks the “claim all benefits box” – thereby denying the widow the opportunity to collect her widows benefit now, and then claim her own higher benefit at age 70! Larry exposes the myth behind the idea that your benefits will be permanently reduced if you file before full retirement age, and he reveals the most “sexist” provisions of Social Security’s basic rules, which work to the detriment of women’s retirement security.
We both support Social Security and its importance in our society. So, we are working to make sure that this uncaring bureaucracy fulfills its mission to serve the American public, by stoking outrage in Congress over their behavior. And we show you how to find your correct benefit amount, so you or your loved one isn’t the next Social Security clawback victim.
And that’s The Savage Truth.