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Garnishing Pension

What can I do if a judgment-creditor starts to garnish my pension benefits?

Can BANK ACCOUNT funded ONLY with pension fund dollars be garnished for a judgment? Was NOT aware of judgment, got notification a garnishment of credit union banking account being garnished. Pulled credit report, show NO outstanding credit accounts. AM highly confused as was previously told NO PENSION funds allowed to be garnished but this seems as a ROUND ABOUT attempt for what would have to be an EXTREMELY old credit card debt. Know of nothing else in such straits and do NOT recognize the "garnisher", a debt collector (one Brown & Joseph LTD from Illinois. I reside in California, my CU account is with former employer which is hq'd in Georgia. Am confused, more than 7 years back, did have a cc default, but seems to be only possibility and know of NO JUDGMENT, NO COURT DATEs or etc and am NOT sure how to proceed. NEED the pension dollars for basics such as rent and food, have a 5yr old car still paying on. Am currently working to pay CURRENT credit cards and extremely stretched due to medical issues. Have indeed put some in savings but only to accumulate to pay off current debts and presently live to the "dime" of receiving next pension check. Would appreciate advice on how to proceed. Have 20 days to respond to CU as to whether DISPUTE this billing but not sure what that entails or how to word. Must be writing, and stated AM allowed to request information, WHAT beyond the obvious am I entitled to procure from the debt collector?

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Bill's Answer
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You raise several discrete issues in your question, which I will answer separately.

Credit Report

Your credit report is an imperfect snapshot of your credit history that is 60-90 days old. A credit report is not a legal document, in so much that creditors are not required to report their actions or rights to collect a debt to the credit reporting agencies. A creditor can have a valid debt that never appears on any credit report. Therefore, it is of no legal consequence that a debt fails to appear on a credit report.

Garnishing Pension

Generally, government-administered benefits such as state pensions and Social Security cannot be garnished by a judgment. Private pensions enjoy similar status in most states. However, if you deposit those benefits into a bank account and then co-mingle the funds with money from other, non-exempt sources, proving the exempt status of the funds may be difficult.

Create an account into which you deposit all of your exempt funds, and maintain another account for any non-exempt funds you may receive (gifts from friends, income from work, etc.). Notify your bank or credit union the funds being deposited into the exempt account should not be levied upon, and that the bank or credit union should refuse any levy orders it receives. The bank or credit union may not be able to guarantee that a levy or garnishment will not be placed on your exempt funds, but taking these steps should offer you at least some level of protection.

If a creditor places a levy or garnishment on a bank account containing exempt funds, you will likely need to file a notice of exemption with the court, and attend a hearing to request that the funds be released back to you. If the court determines the funds are exempt from attachment, it should release the money to you.

Keep in mind a creditor generally cannot attempt to levy your accounts until it obtains a judgment against you, so you should have time to take the steps mentioned to protect yourself.

Here, however, you mentioned you received no summons to appear, and no notice of the garnishment or levy order. This may be significant, because in all states the civil procedure laws are such that the defendant is supposed to receive adequate notice of the summons and any judgment. These laws are so important that a plaintiff failing to follow these rules may be subject to sanction and suffer a reversal of the judgment. Therefore, I urge you to consult with an attorney in your state, who will review your documents in person, and can advise you if the judgment can be vacated.

California Judgment

Regarding your immediate concern regarding the levy or garnishment, you must take action quickly. You mentioned you reside in California. In California, the debtor must be notified with an Original Writ of Execution (form EJ-130). See the California Courts Self-Help Center to find the Claim of Exemption form (form WG-006) or Exemptions From the Enforcement of Judgments (form EJ-155) you should consider completing in your response to the judgment. Consult with an attorney in California, who will either complete the correct form for you, or advise you on how to complete the form yourself.

See also the Bills.com article California Collection Laws, or Collection Laws & Exemptions by State to learn more.

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

Best,

Bill

Bills.com

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8 Comments

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  • DF
    Sep, 2013
    Deborah
    Montville, CT
    I worked for the State of Connecticut and was injured on the job 4 years ago. They would not take me back to work and made me file for a disability retirement pension, which I receive. I have a home, which I know they may get a judgment of attachment, but can they get a judgment attaching my pension? My debt is all credit card. I also filed for Social Security and awaiting to hear if I was accepted. I read your CT collections laws article and will go to the bank tomorrow and let them know it's an exempt account.
    0 Votes

    • BA
      Sep, 2013
      Bill
      You have two issues to worry about.
      • Can the judgment-creditor reach your pension?
      • Can the judgment-creditor levy your pension funds once they land in your bank or credit union account?

      Consult with a Connecticut lawyer about how your state's courts have interpreted C.G.S. § 52-352b. The plain language of the statute is unclear to me, in particular because your benefit:

      1. Is a state-paid benefit
      2. Could be considered a retirement benefit, and
      3. Could be considered a disability benefit

      Find a lawyer who has either litigated this issue, or conducts a thorough review of the case law on whether your pension is vulnerable.

      The second issue is related, and the case law may reveal whether pension-originated funds are off-limits in the same way that Social Security funds are. My guess — note that word choice — is no. However, C.G.S. § 52-352b seems to offer a $1,000 wild-card exemption you may be able to apply to account levy. A Connecticut lawyer will be able to research this and advise you if my guesses here are correct.

      0 Votes

  • CL
    Feb, 2012
    Charles
    There are proceeds being attempted by a company to sue me for unpaid credit card debt. I have explained my circumstances, including loss of part time employment after 16 years, in 2008 due to the economic downturn. My only income now is my Social Security and a less than 500 dollar private pension from a previous employer. It is it my understanding that neither of these items can be garnished. I have no other assets, car ,furniture etc., and presently live outside of the country, mostly because it is one of a few places I can afford to live any more on my income. Can they come after my income?
    0 Votes

  • QS
    Jul, 2011
    quintina
    South Riding, VA
    My mother lives in Euclid, Ohio. We moved her from one senior citizen community to another after the apartment building became infested with bedbugs due to a death in the building earlier that year.They refused to treat it after we refused to sign a paper saying we would pay for any subsequent treatments after the first one. So, we broke the lease, cleaned up a bit but left most of the infested furnishings behind and now they are suing her for $2000. Can they garnish her retirement funds or SSI?
    0 Votes

    • BA
      Jul, 2011
      Bill
      If they sue and win a judgment, she could be at risk for garnishment. Her SSI should be free from garnishment, for this type of debt, but her bank account and other retirement income could very well be at risk of account levy.

      Consult with an attorney in the tenant's state who has consumer law experience. Take the lease and other documents regarding the offer to treat the infestation to the meeting. The attorney can opine whether the tenant had a legal excuse to break the lease. Landlords have a duty to provide habitable housing, and you need to learn if a bedbug invasion gives tenants a legal excuse to break a lease.
      0 Votes

  • BA
    Oct, 2010
    Bill
    Pension funds are generally immune from garnishment, with the exception of child support. See the Bills.com resource Texas Collection Laws to learn more.
    0 Votes

  • 35x35
    Oct, 2010
    john
    Can a judgment from unpaid contractual alimony (not statutory spousal support) be used to garnish the funds in a simple owner IRA? I live in Texas.
    0 Votes

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