Can a Debt Collector Take my Social Security Benefits?
The Social Security Administration (SSA) states that your Social Security funds have protection from judgment creditors who can garnish or levy funds in your bank account to collect on their judgments. According to Federal regulations effective May 1, 2011, your bank must protect your Social Security direct deposit benefits for the last two-months. If your account has more than two-months’ worth of benefits, your bank can freeze the extra-funds.
Your Bank Account is protected for Two-Months of Social Security Benefits
When the bank receives the paperwork from a judgment collector it will establish an account review of all your bank accounts (such as your personal, savings, and business accounts). The bank “looks back” for two-months. For example, the paperwork is received on October 1, 2015 and the bank will look back to August 1, 2015. If you received two direct Social Security payments, of say $1,500 each, your bank account is protected for $3,000. The bank can freeze any funds over $3,000. However, you can use the $3,000 for your daily living expenses and cash withdrawals as usual.
1. Automatic protection does not apply to Social Security payments using paper checks.
2. Funds transferred from the Social Security direct deposit account to another account (such as, a savings account) are not protected.
If the Bank Freezes Your Money
The bank can freeze the excess funds in your bank accounts. In other words, any funds that are over twice your monthly Social Security payment (such as, the $3,000 discussed in the earlier example). If the bank freezes your money, the bank must notify you of the garnishment. The judge then decides if the money should be given to the judgement collector based on factors such as State law and your income. It is important for the judge to know exactly where your money comes from. You may need to enlist a lawyer.
You may Qualify for Free Legal Help
According to the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB) Federal and state laws may protect the money you receive from other sources from garnishment. This can include money from a pension or retirement plan, Federal student loans, child or spousal support payments. Consumer laws in your state may protect some of your money and assets. The CFPB suggests finding legal help. The following are a few resources:
• The Center for Elder Rights Advocacy can refer you to a local agency that provides free legal help to seniors who qualify. You can call the Center for Elder Rights Advocacy at (866) 949-2372 or visit Legalhotlines.org at www.legalhotlines.org.
• The American Bar Association can assist you in finding help in your state, click here http://apps.americanbar.org/legalservices/findlegalhelp/home.cfm .
• The Consumer Finance Protection Bureau provides a list of local legal services programs or attorney referral programs at http://www.consumerfinance.gov/askcfpb/1549/how-do-i-find-attorney-my-state.html.