Creditors generally cannot seize Social Security benefits, even if they have sued you and obtained a court judgment against you. However, there are some limited exceptions to this rule for certain types of government debts which are detailed below.
Are Social Security benefits protected by law?
Yes. Creditors cannot garnish or confiscate Social Security benefits, whether they be retirement, disability, survivor's benefits, or SSI, with the exception of certain federal agencies. This safeguard has been codified into law by Congress. This means that conventional creditors, such as credit card companies, medical collectors, and loan businesses, are prohibited from taking Social Security benefits if it is evident that the money they want is Social Security income.
Does it matter if the creditor has sued me in court?
No. Even if the creditor obtains a court judgment against you, these rights apply. You may not be able to pay the judgment with Social Security funds if the court rules against you. As a result, if you are sued for a debt, it is critical that you do not enter into any agreed orders or judgments that require you to pay a debt with your Social Security benefits.
Do these protections exist if the Social Security money is deposited into a bank account?
Yes. Once funds are placed in a bank, they are protected against garnishment or confiscation. The Court, on the other hand, must be able to distinguish between exempt and non-exempt funds.
If the Court cannot tell whether money is Social Security income from your documents and bank statements, the Court will most likely rule that none of the money is exempt. If Social Security income is directly deposited into a bank account, the statement will reflect a deposit from the United States Treasury at about the same time each month. To make it evident that the Social Security Administration is the only source of funds in the account, the direct deposit from the US Treasury should be the only deposit reported on the bank statement each month. This will show creditors and a court that the money in your bank account is protected income.
What if a collection agency threatens to take my Social Security?
By making false assertions, the collection agency may be breaking the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (a federal law that regulates collection agencies). Only if the creditor or collection agency knows that your only source of income is Social Security would these statements be false. You should seek legal assistance if you believe you have legal claims against the collecting agency.
Can government agencies take my Social Security benefits?
Yes, but only under limited circumstances.
First, SSI (Supplemental Security Income) cannot be taken at all, unless the Social Security Administration is trying to correct incorrect past payments.
Only federal agencies may try to take Social Security benefits. Examples of some things the federal agencies can try to take your Social Security benefits for are:
- Federally subsidized student loans.
- Other loans owed to, or subsidized by the government.
- Food stamp overpayments.
Can the federal agency take my whole Social Security payment?
No, a government agency can only take a portion of your Social Security check each month.
The first $750 per month (or $9000 per year) is not confiscatable. As a result, if your monthly benefits are less than $750, your benefits cannot be taken.
Can I protest the government’s action?
Yes. You have the right to get written notice in advance if the government plans to "offset" (take a portion of) your Social Security income. If you believe you do not owe the money, you have the right to a hearing. You might want to seek legal counsel. Another option is to work out a payment plan with the government entity that is threatening to withhold your Social Security income.
Can I get rid of the government debt in bankruptcy?
Yes, in a lot of circumstances. However, there are certain noteworthy exceptions, such as:
- Student debts are normally non-dischargeable, and income taxes can only be forgiven in certain situations.
- If the person or entity to whom you owe the money establishes you collected the obligation by false pretenses or fraud, the debt will not be dismissed.
If you need an experienced attorney to review your financial circumstances and the nature of debts to help you decide the best course of action, please contact the Law Office of Inna Fershteyn at (718) 333-2395.