Can a Social Security Check be Garnished for Debt?

One thing that may seniors worry about is owing debt and having their Social Security checks garnished. In fact, many debt collection agencies even make this threat when they call trying to collect on an old bill.

But can they do it?

As a general rule, no, but there are some exceptions.

Social Security benefits are safe from all private creditors with the exception of:

  1.  Child support,
  2.  Alimony (in some states), and
  3.  Certain government backed student loans.

That means that if you owe a credit card debt, a bank loan, car loan, etc. then the creditor cannot garnish your Social Security benefits to pay that debt. However, you have to be careful because if they go to the trouble of filing a lawsuit, having you served, and then get a judgment because they can get an order to garnish your bank account(s). Most judges will release the money back to you if the only funds deposited into the account are the Social Security payments but it can still tie the money up for a couple of weeks and cause some hardship.

The only things that Social Security can really be garnished easily for are something to do with the government. This is because the Social Security Act specifically prohibits garnishment for private debts. There have been exclusions granted for alimony and child support, but other than that your benefits are safe.


SSA Website

Illinois Legal Aid

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