TN 37 (11-18)

GN 02201.029 The Treasury Offset Program (TOP)

A. Policy - general

1. Authority

The Debt Collection Improvement Act of 1996 (DCIA, P.L. 104-134) provided for the establishment of the Treasury Offset Program (TOP).

2. Description of TOP

TOP is a centralized, government-wide delinquent debt matching and payment offset program administered by the Department of the Treasury (Treasury). This program enables Treasury to collect delinquent debts owed to the Social Security Administration (SSA) by offsetting Federal payments due to a debtor. TOP credits SSA with the amount collected and SSA automatically updates its records with the most recent TOP-related information.

TOP's delinquent debt matching and payment offset system results in a type of collection called an “administrative offset.” To collect SSA's debts, TOP performs the following types of administrative offsets:

  1. a. 

    Tax Refund Offset (TRO)-TOP reduces or withholds Federal income tax refunds to recover delinquent title II and title XVI debts. The TRO program continues to operate under its own regulations and has its own policy (see GN 02201.030 for the title II TRO policy and SI 02220.012 for the title XVI TRO policy).

  2. b. 

    Other administrative offset-TOP reduces or withholds other payments, which include Federal travel and expense reimbursements and State payments, to collect “unrecoverable” title II and title XVI debts. The use of other administrative offset is covered under regulations separate from TRO, and has its own policy (see GN 02201.031 for title II procedures and SI 02220.013 for title XVI procedures).

B. Process - TOP

Federal agencies participate in the TOP program in the following ways:

  • As a Payment Agency — An agency making payments that Treasury matches against its delinquent debtor database and offsets to yield the recovery of a delinquent debt (See GN 02410.300 for detailed information about Benefit Payment Offset):

  • As a Creditor Agency — An agency that is owed a debt and submits it to TOP for collection by offset from a payment agency; and

  • As both a Payment and Creditor Agency – An agency that participates in TOP as both a payment agency and creditor agency.

NOTE: SSA participates in TOP as both a payment agency and creditor agency.

The TOP process is based on computer matching. TOP uses the taxpayer identification number (TIN) and a name control (generally the first four characters of the debtor's last name), to match the debtor and payee records. For SSA, the TIN is the same as the beneficiary's own account number (BOAN). When TOP identifies a payment that an agency is in the process of issuing to a debtor, Treasury reduces or withholds the payment and sends it to the agency owed the debt (the creditor agency).

NOTE: TOP does not collect delinquent debts owed to SSA by offsetting benefit payments made by SSA. For example, TOP will not collect from a debtor's Title II payment to satisfy a delinquent title XVI debt. SSA performs this type of debt collection internally via mandatory cross program recovery (see SI 02220.020).

C. Process - SSA'S Actions in TOP

1. Select SSA Debtors

SSA's External Collection Operation (ECO) selects debtors from the Recovery of Overpayments, Accounting and Reporting (ROAR) master file for title II and the Supplemental Security Income Record (SSR) for title XVI debtors who qualify for TRO or other administrative offset (see SM 00610.040 for additional information regarding ECO).

2. Notify SSA Debtors

  1. a. 

    After selecting the debtors, ECO sends each individual a notice about the planned action(s).The notice informs the debtor that:

  • He or she owes a debt for a particular amount;

  • SSA plans to refer the debt to Treasury for TRO/TOP and/or send information about the debt to credit bureaus after 60 days have expired from the date on the notice;

  • SSA will not take this action if, before the end of that 60-day period, the debtor pays the debt in full, makes regular installment payments under an agreement with SSA, requests waiver, or furnishes evidence showing that he or she does not owe all or part of the stated amount or SSA does not have the right to collect the debt; and

  • He or she may review and copy SSA's records about the debt.

b. ECO identifies and automatically selects and sends the following types of pre-offset notices:

  • Title II TRO only notice (see GN 02201.030 for a detailed description of title II TRO);

  • Title II TRO and other administrative offset notice (see GN 02201.030 and GN 02201.031 for detailed descriptions of each collection tool);

  • Title II TRO, other administrative offset and credit bureau reporting notice (see GN 02201.030, GN 02201.031, and GN 02201.032 for detailed descriptions of each collection tool), although credit bureau reporting is proposed in this notice, it is not carried out by TOP. SSA's systems conduct credit bureau reporting.;

  • Title XVI TRO only Notice (see SI 02220.012 and SI 02220.013 for detailed descriptions of each collection tool);

  • Title XVI TRO and other administrative offset notice (see SI 02220.012 and SI 02220.013 for detailed descriptions of each collection tool); and

  • Title XVI TRO, other administrative offset and credit bureau reporting notice (see SI 02220.012, SI 02220.013 and SI 02220.014 for detailed descriptions of each collection tool).

NOTE: ECO notices sent November 2015 or later are stored in the Online Notice Retrieval System (ORS). For ECO notices sent prior to November 2015, view the ECO master query. For additional information on the ECO master query, see MSOM DMS 014.007.

NOTE: Effective May 12, 2017, SSA no longer refers Title II, Title VIII, or Title XVI debts that have a delinquency date of May 19, 2002 or earlier. There is no manual action necessary to prevent TOP selection because the selection is automated. Rather, our automated ECO system no longer selects these debts for external collection. Debts with a delinquency date after May 19, 2002 remain eligible for TOP referral.

3. Certify Debtors to Treasury

SSA certifies debtors to Treasury if they continue to meet all requirements for TOP after the 60-day due process period. Once certified, debtors are eligible for offset.

4. Update Debtor Records

SSA provides weekly, automated updates to Treasury regarding any changes in the status of the debt and the debtor. The updates include events such as decreases in debt amounts and requests for waiver. The Collection Query attached to the MBR and SSR identifies pertinent information about the debt and debtor (see MSOM DMS 014.007 for description of the Collection Query).

D. Process - Treasury's actions in TOP

1. Conduct the Debtor/Payment Matching Process

If the TIN and name of the debtor matches the TIN and name on the payment, TOP automatically determines if an offset is allowed. If offset is allowed, TOP determines the amount of the offset and sends a notice of offset to the debtor.

2. Notify Debtor of the Offset

Treasury notifies the debtor of the offset on or before the date the payment is normally due. This notice tells the debtor that Treasury offset the payment (in whole or in part) to repay a delinquent debt owed to SSA. Treasury's notice also provides the following information:

  1. a. 

    SSA's claim account number on which the offset occurred;

  2. b. 

    SSA's contact point and address; and

  3. c. 

    SSA's telephone number, which is either the national 800 number or the phone number of the Debt Management Section handling the debt.

3. Notify SSA of the Offset

Treasury also notifies SSA of the offset. This is an automated notification update to the ROAR system for title II.

4. Update the TOP delinquent debtor database

Treasury updates and maintains the delinquent debtor database to show the most current debt balance and other important information.

NOTE: Due to confidentiality concerns, Treasury does not divulge the source of the collection to the creditor agency.

To Link to this section - Use this URL:
GN 02201.029 - The Treasury Offset Program (TOP) - 03/09/2016
Batch run: 11/19/2018