Freeze Account

My ex-spouse has a judgment against me. Can my accounts be frozen? Can I lose my Social Security or pension?

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Bill's Answer: Answered by Mark Cappel

An account freeze prevents any transactions from occurring in the account.

There are three circumstances under which a bank, credit union, or brokerage can freeze an account. First, the financial institution can freeze an account if it believes there is suspicious activity on the account or the account is used for illegal acts. Second, the government can ask a bank to freeze an account if it has evidence the account is used for illegal activity. Finally, a account freeze can take place when the account owner dies.

It is not possible for a third party, such as an ex-spouse to effectuate an account freeze.

Levy bank accounts

You may be thinking of what is called a "levy" or "garnishment." A levy means the judgment-creditor has the right to take whatever money in a debtor's account and apply the funds to the balance of the judgment. The procedure for levying bank accounts, as well as what amount, if any, a debtor can claim as exempt from the levy, is governed by state law. Many states exempt certain amounts and certain types of funds from bank levies, so a debtor should review his or her state's laws to find if a bank account can be levied. See the resource State Consumer Protection Laws and Exemptions for an overview of each state's rules.

To get a levy, garnishment, or lien, a creditor must first get a judgment from a court of law. (See the resource Collections Advice to learn more about this process.)

Pension exemption

Generally speaking, pensions are exempt from garnishment or levy. The exceptions are child support and tax liens, and other relatively rare circumstances. See the resource Can a creditor be allowed to do Social Security garnishment? to learn more about the protections the federal government has put in place for beneficiaries of Social Security benefits.

If your pension or Social Security benefits are commingled in a an account with funds from other sources (such as gifts from friends or investment income) the contents of the entire account can be levied. Therefore, it is imperative that people who are receiving a pension or Social Security benefits have those funds deposited in an account that receives deposits from the Social Security Administration and/or the pension administrator. Insist that the bank or credit union annotate the account with the message that the source of the funds in that account are pension and Social Security benefits only, and cannot be garnished or levied.

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Comments (10)

Stephanie T.
Las Cruces, NM  |  November 08, 2011
I have tenants that make deposits into my account. Their lease is ending - and I want them out. However, if they continue to pay into my account the law says I'm accepting payment from them and I have to restart eviction proceedings. Can I freeze my account for this reason and not allow even walk in deposits?
November 08, 2011
Ask your bank or credit union to block ACH or other transfers into your account from the bank or credit union the tenants are using to make the transfer.
Chico H.
Milpitas, CA  |  October 24, 2011
My friend's mom and dad are in the middle of a divorce proceeding in another country's court outside of U.S. The mom has a bank account in her own name in the U.S.. The dad sent a letter to the U.S. bank and filed an action asking the court to freeze the account because there is a divorce proceeding going on between the couple. Does the mom have a case to sue the bank for damages and/or unfreeze the account?
October 24, 2011
If the US bank is following the lawful order of US judge, I do not see a case the customer has against the bank.
Darbo K.
Columbus, OH  |  May 31, 2011
So I am being sued on one account. Can the bank freeze my other accounts which are not related to the suit?
May 31, 2011
A creditor can't freeze or garnish any of your bank accounts until and unless it has obtained a judgment against you. At that point, any account that is associated with your social security number is at risk of garnishment.
Buried I.
Cape Coral, FL  |  April 06, 2011
How far back does the court go to check bank accounts for comingling and how for back for charges made on a credit card to avoid "Bad FAITH"
April 06, 2011
I doubt there are hard-and-fast, one-size-fits-all answers to either of your questions. You indicated you reside in Florida. Consult with a Florida lawyer who has experience in civil litigation. He or she will ask you about the circumstances surrounding your questions, can research Florida's case law, and will give you answers to your questions.
March 10, 2010
Regarding your first question, speak to the attorney who represented you in your divorce. I do not see a cause of action regarding your first question, but I have no idea what state you are in and no additional facts to work with. Regarding your second question, contact an attorney in your state who has experience in consumer law. You may have a cause of action against etrade if the company was negligent in maintaining the security of your account.
Bud .
March 09, 2010
my brokerage acct. was frozen by etrade through my wife during the first paper filing for divorce. it was still going through the motion on 2007. can i sue etrade for illegally freezing my acct. secondly. on 2006 somebody sold and gained access to my etrade acct. they sold all my shares. can i sue them too for damages. due to this i was not able to trade at all.
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