Speed Reads

Death and taxes

Social Security will stop garnishing tax refunds to pay off old debts


After a public outcry, the Social Security Administration announced Monday that it will no longer attempt to collect taxpayer debts more than 10 years old.

The move came after a Washington Post article last week exposed that the U.S. Treasury was garnishing federal and state tax refunds from debtors' children. In one case, Social Security wasn't even sure which member of a family actually owed the money; it targeted one daughter, even though her four siblings and mother had also received Social Security benefits after their father died in 1960. According to the Washington Post report, Social Security planned on going after the tax refunds of 400,000 people, who collectively owed $714 million.

This effort was all made possible by a revision to the Farm Bill passed in 2008, which lifted the statute of limitations "applicable to collection of debt by administrative offset." Carolyn W. Colvin, the acting commissioner of Social Security, announced the "immediate halt to further referrals under the Treasury Offset Program," adding that "if any Social Security or Supplemental Security Income beneficiary believes they have been incorrectly assessed with an overpayment under this program, I encourage them to request an explanation or seek options to resolve the overpayment."