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Can Social Security Benefits Be Garnished to Pay Debts?

  • January 27th, 2016

gavelIf you don't pay your debts, creditors can get a court order to garnish your wages, but what if your income comes from Social Security? The answer is that it depends on the kind of debt.

For most types of debt, including credit cards, medical bills, and personal loans, Social Security cannot be garnished to pay the debt. If you owe money to a creditor, the creditor can go to court and get an order to take money from your bank account. If your Social Security check is directly deposited in the bank, the bank is required to protect Social Security benefits from garnishment. When a creditor tries to freeze a debtor's bank account, the bank is required to look at the debtor's previous two months of transactions to determine if the debtor received any Social Security benefits by direct deposit. For example, if you receive $1,500 a month in Social Security, the bank is required to allow you to use up to $3,000 in your account.

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If you receive a Social Security check and deposit it in the bank yourself, the bank can freeze the entire amount in the account. You would be required to go to court and prove the money in the account came from Social Security.

There are certain debts, however, that Social Security can be garnished to pay for. Those debts include federal taxes, federal student loans, child support and alimony, victim restitution, and other federal debts. If you owe federal taxes, 15 percent of your Social Security check can be used to pay your debt, no matter how much money is left.

For student loans and other non-tax debts, the government can take 15 percent of your Social Security check as long as the remaining balance doesn't drop below $750. There is no statute of limitations on student loan debt, so it doesn't matter how long ago the debt occurred.  (In fact, student loan debt may be the next crisis facing elderly Americans. In 2015, bills were introduced in the House and Senate, HR 3967 and S 2387, to stop the government from garnishing the wages of elderly and disabled Social Security recipients.)

The rules for child support and alimony vary depending on the law in your state. The maximum amount that can be garnished is 50 percent of your Social Security benefit if you support another child, 60 percent if you don't support another child, or 65 percent if the support is more than 12 weeks in arrears.

These rules do not apply to Supplemental Security Income (SSI). SSI is protected from garnishment even if the creditor can garnish regular Social Security. Social Security Disability Insurance can be garnished in the same way that Social Security is garnished.

If you feel your Social Security is being improperly garnished, contact your lawyer. 

For more information about Social Security, go here: http://www.elderlawanswers.com/social-security.


Last Modified: 01/27/2016
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