TN 23 (02-02)

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 government-wide delinquent debt matching and payment offset system run by the Department of the Treasury (Treasury). TOP enables Treasury to recover an individual's delinquent SSA debt by offsetting any Federal payment due that individual. TOP then credits SSA with the amount collected. SSA automatically updates its records to show the most recent TOP-related information.

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

  1. a. 

    Tax Refund Offset (TRO). TOP reduces or withholds Federal income tax refunds to recover delinquent titles II and 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 also 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 would be matched against a delinquent debtor database (maintained by Treasury) and then offset 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 which is owed a debt and submits it to TOP for collection by offset from a payment agency;

  • As both a Payment and Creditor Agency – 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 about to be sent to a debtor, Treasury reduces or withholds the payment and sends it to the agency that is 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 a delinquent title XVI debt from that person's title II payment. This is done internally by SSA in debt collection programs such as mandatory cross program recovery (see SI 02220.020).

C. Process - SSA'S actions in TOP

1. Select the SSA debtors

Once a week, SSA selects its titles II and XVI debtors who qualify for TRO or other administrative offset. The selection is done by SSA's systems.

2. Notify the SSA debtors

Shortly after selecting the debtors, SSA sends each individual a notice about the planned action(s). Among other things, the notice informs the debtor:

  • That he or she owes a delinquent overpayment debt in a particular amount;

  • That 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;

  • That 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

  • That the debtor may review and copy SSA's records about the debt.

NOTE: SSA's systems identify and automatically select the type of TOP preoffset notice to be sent. SSA sends the following five types of TOP preoffset notices:

  • Title II TRO only notice (see GN 02201.030 for a detailed description of title II TRO); this notice is sent only to debtors with a BIC C;

  • Title II TRO and other administrative offset notice (see GN 02201.030 and GN 02201.031 for detailed descriptions of each collection tool);this notice is sent when credit bureau reporting is not permitted by law;

  • 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 and other administrative offset notice (see SI 02220.012 and SI 02220.013 for detailed descriptions of each collection tool); this notice is sent when credit bureau reporting is not permitted by law; 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: All ECO notices sent November 2015 or later will be stored in ORS. For all ECO notices sent prior to November 2015 you can view the ECO master query. For additional information on the ECO master query, see MSOM DMS 014.007.

3. Certify the 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 that is 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 debt and the payment match on both TIN and name, 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 the 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 the payment was offset to repay (in whole or in part) 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; and

  2. b. 

    SSA's contact point and address.

  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 about the offset

Treasury also notifies SSA about the offset via TOP. This notification is automated and results in an update to the ROAR system and Supplemental Security Record (SSR).

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.

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GN 02201.029 - The Treasury Offset Program (TOP) - 03/09/2016
Batch run: 03/09/2016