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Garnish Social Security Income

Can a credit card company garnish my Social Security or other retirement income?

A credit card company placed a hold on my account for the money I owe. I receive Social Security and retirement income. Is it true they cannot garnish my income?

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Bill's Answer
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According to the Social Security Administration Web page Garnishing Social Security benefits due to a debt, "If a creditor other than the federal government tries to garnish your Social Security benefits, inform them that such an action violates Section 207 of the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. 407). Section 207 bars garnishment of your benefits. It can also be used as a defense if your benefits are incorrectly garnished. Our responsibility for protecting benefits against garnishment, assignments and other legal processes usually ends when the beneficiary is paid. However, once paid, benefits continue to be protected under section 207 of Act as long as they are identifiable as Social Security benefits."

Therefore, a creditor with a credit card, mortgage, or auto loan debt may not garnish your wages. However, there are a number of instances where the federal government can garnish Social Security benefits, including:

 • Garnish benefits to enforce child support and /or alimony obligations -- Section 459 of the Act;

 • The Internal Revenue Service can levy against benefits to collect unpaid Federal taxes -- Section 6334(c) of the Internal Revenue Code;

 • The Internal Revenue Service can collect taxes due by levying up to 15 percent of a monthly benefit until the debt is paid;

 • The Internal Revenue Service allows beneficiaries to have a portion of their check withheld to satisfy a current year Federal income tax liability -- Section 3402 (P) of the Internal Revenue Code; and

 • Other Federal agencies can collect money from benefits to pay a non-tax debt owed to that Agency -- Debt Collection Act of 1996 (Public Law 104-134).

The Social Security Administration Web page Garnishing Social Security benefits contains the exceptions I just mentioned.

Retirement income protected by garnishment

Accordingly, your income is protected if your primary sources of income are Social Security and retirement. Most people who are in the type of situation you are facing choose to keep separate bank accounts for their "exempt" funds and any other money they may receive which is not exempt from garnishment; commingling exempt fund with non-exempt funds can lead to all of the funds becoming non-exempt, resulting in a bank levy on what the consumer thought was exempt money.

I strongly encourage you to consult with an attorney licensed in your state about your vulnerability to creditor execution in case of any judgment entered against you. An attorney should be able to better explain the risks of having outstanding debts and help formulate an asset protection plan suited to your individual circumstances.

For more information about the various options available to consumers who are struggling with debts, I encourage you to visit the Debt Help section at

I hope this information helps you Find. Learn & Save.



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