Can Debt Collectors Take My Social Security Check?
Repeated debit collector calls are stressful.
You dread answering the phone because you don’t know who you will next be speaking to.
It’s not just the commitment to pay that haunts you, it’s also the threats they make. They will threaten that they will send you to jail or grab your social security benefits.
You get pretty anxious, epically if you barely make ends meet now, and you wonder if their threats will materialize.
Is Social Security Part of a Lawsuit’s Garnishment?
According to Wikipedia, “Garnishment is a legal process for collecting a monetary judgment on behalf of a plaintiff from a defendant”. It lets the creditor seize assets, wages, and money to clear their pending debt.
This can be difficult for you if benefits are your main income source.
However, there is no straightforward ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ reply to the question.
It’s generally believed that debt collectors cannot take social security payments.
However, it’s not always true because your debt type determines everything.
Types of Debt
While there are various types of debt, they can be broadly classified into:
1. Private Creditor Debt
Private credit debt includes credit card debt, medical bills, and payday and payday loans. However, federal benefits like social security benefits are protected from private creditors.
So debt collectors cannot take your benefits even after winning a court judgment if you have credit card debt. The funds exempted from garnishment vary amongst states include funds for retirement and disability benefits and child support.
2. Federal Agency Debt
However, federal agencies can use your benefits to pay off debts if it is federal debt.
But though the federal agency can deduct your social security check, they cannot remove the entire amount. The government can make deductions if you have federal debt like:
- Victim compensation
- Overpaid food stamps
- Child support and alimony
- Federal taxes
- Federal student loans
- Other federal debts
How Much of My Benefits Will Be Deducted?
The first $750 of your monthly benefits aren’t deducted in non-tax debt, no matter how much your monthly payments are. The federal government is not allowed to deduct in excess of 15% of your monthly payments.
The government can however claim 15% of your monthly benefits to repay federal tax debts. Based on your state laws and situation, they may deduct 50-65% for child support and alimony.
However, supplemental security income is protected from garnishment. This is a government income program to assist Americans in meeting their daily necessities.
What About Medical Bills?
Debt collectors cannot garnish social security benefits to clear medical bills, as they are private debts.
How You Can Prevent Social Security Benefits from Garnishment
Even if private creditors cannot garnish your benefits, in some cases, they may seize your funds from your bank account. You can protect your payments from debt collection agencies by:
Having Separate Accounts for Your Benefits
It’s better to use separate bank accounts if you have multiple fund sources. This prevents banks from mistakenly freezing your benefits as there’s no mixing of funds.
You can thus protect the freezing of your benefits through bank levies.
Don’t Transfer Funds
Do not transfer your benefits to separate bank accounts.
The bank won’t recognize your social security benefits, making it easy for debt collectors to garnish the amount. It is also difficult to prove these were your social security benefits if debt collectors levy your bank account.
Avoid Keeping Social Security Benefits Idle in Your Account for Too Long
The bank has a particular lookback period to consider before garnishing your benefits. It’s usually two months or 60 days before the bank levy or notice for garnishment.
It’s difficult protecting your benefits if you keep them in your bank account for longer than the lookback period.
So don’t keep the benefits idle in your account for more than 60 days, especially if creditors are after you.
File for Exemption
If you receive a bank notice to freeze your benefits, filing a claim for exemption stating the money is your benefits help. You need proof to validate your claim.
However, if the funds are already frozen, they won’t be released until the judge decides the funds are exempt.
That’s why you need to act quickly once you receive a threat of the garnishment of your payments.
Social Security Benefits Attorneys in Burbank Can Help
Consult your Burbank social security benefits lawyer, who will decide if it’s possible to protect your benefits and how. They will be able to tell you which funds are protected from garnishment.