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Social Security penalty upheld

I forgot to report to Social Security that my 1995 wages exceeded my allowed amount by the April 15 deadline last year. I had fallen in February 1996, broken my shoulder and been laid up for a couple of months.

After getting a letter from them in September, I sent them a check for the $359 overpayment for 1995. I thought that was the end of it until I received a letter from them in December stating that I owed a penalty of $359 for not having filed my 1995 annual report of earnings before April 15, 1996.

I have called since and spoken to three people at Social Security. One lady said it was a mistake and that I would be notified by mail that I didn't owe anything. This seems like a high penalty. DeLoan Witte

Response: Richard Hamel, manager of the Social Security Administration office in Clearwater, wrote that your records and statements have been reviewed and the determination made that the penalty charge was proper.

You do not meet the requirements for "good cause" for late filing, he wrote. Even though you had a broken shoulder that limited your movements, you could have made the required annual report of your earnings by telephone.

We also spoke with Marty Hudspeth at the Social Security office.

The first penalty is one month's check or the amount of overpayment, whichever is less. The amount increases with each subsequent penalty.

As a result of the federal government's recent National Performance Review, most Social Security recipients no longer need to report their excess earnings to Social Security. That information is automatically picked up from W-2 or self-employment tax return information.

If you have a question for Action, or your attempts to resolve a consumer complaint have failed, write: Times Action, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731, or call your Action number, 893-8171, or, outside of Pinellas, (800) 333-7505, ext. 8171, to leave a recorded request for Action. Names will not be omitted except in unusual circumstances. Letters may be edited for length and clarity.