Start My Answer

3 Reasons Banks Can Freeze Your Account

Chloe Meltzer | April 11, 2024

Chloe Meltzer
Legal Expert
Chloe Meltzer, MA

Chloe Meltzer is an experienced content writer specializing in legal content creation. She holds a degree in English Literature from Arizona State University, complemented by a Master’s in Marketing from California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo.

Edited by Hannah Locklear

Hannah Locklear
Editor at SoloSuit
Hannah Locklear, BA

Hannah Locklear is SoloSuit’s Marketing and Impact Manager. With an educational background in Linguistics, Spanish, and International Development from Brigham Young University, Hannah has also worked as a legal support specialist for several years.

Fact-checked by George Simons, JD/MBA

George Simons
Co-Founder of SoloSuit
George Simons, JD/MBA

George Simons is the co-founder and CEO of SoloSuit. He has helped Americans protect over $1 billion from predatory debt lawsuits. George graduated from BYU Law school in 2020 with a JD/MBA. In his spare time, George likes to cook, because he likes to eat.

Summary: Banks can freeze your account if they’ve spotted illegal activity on it or if you owe a debt to a creditor or the government and the court ordered a judgment against you. Respond to a debt lawsuit to avoid having your bank account or assets frozen.

Banks freezing accounts = Not cool.

If you have overdue debts, you may suddenly realize that your bank accounts have been frozen. This is only after a judgment has been awarded against you to a creditor or debt collector to whom you owe money.

If it has gone this far, then a creditor or debt collector may be awarded a bank account levy, attachment, or garnishment. This allows them to withdraw money from your account to pay off your debts, but it also means that you cannot access your account while it is frozen. Outstanding checks won't clear either, and you will not be able to make transfers. If you attempt to do any of these things, you may receive fees for having non-sufficient funds in your account.

Understanding the reason why your account is frozen, and how to stop it, might be essential to your financial situation.

Here's why creditors can freeze your bank account

If a creditor files a lawsuit and is awarded a judgment against you, then they sometimes are given the right to freeze your bank account. If the creditor wins the suit against you, then they are often awarded a “money judgment” which forces you to pay a certain amount owed.

If you do not pay the judgment or pay on the schedule that you agreed to, the creditor may then request for your bank to freeze your account and pay your debt. This is then referred to as a garnishment.

It is good to note that federal agencies, such as the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) or the U.S. Department of Education, do not need a judgment to garnish. As long as they have given you notice of intent to garnish or levy, they can do so. The same can be said for child support.

When your bank account is frozen, you cannot access its funds

When your account is frozen, it means that your funds are inaccessible. You will most likely be unable to access your funds until your debt is paid back, or until you are able to have the freeze removed. You cannot take money out of your accounts, and any payments will not go through.

You may notice that the bank has frozen your account because a check will bounce back if you have written or cashed a bad check. This will be treated as though you do not have enough money in your account and may even be flagged as fraud. If you have payments that try to go through, the payments will bounce and you may end up paying a charge for not having sufficient funds. This happens regardless of if you have funds in your account or not, because such funds will not be accessible.

If a creditor seeks judgment against you, then you should expect your credit score to go down. The judgment will also stay on your credit report for up to seven years. This can hurt you in the future if you attempt to buy a home, get a loan, and even get an apartment.

Here are 3 reasons banks can freeze your account

1. Suspicious or illegal activity was spotted on your account

If your account seems to have suspicious or illegal activity, a bank is allowed to freeze an account. This is specifically if they believe one of their account holders has been conducting illegal activities. Bankers became more strict after the events of September 11, 2001 due to certain criminal enterprises that have used financial institutions to conduct business over the years. It is common for banks to monitor accounts for money laundering anyway, which is when large amounts of money are deposited into bank accounts to seem legitimate.

If your bank has suspected that you used your account illegally, they can also close your account without any notice. It can also prevent you from doing business in the future. If, however, you are not doing an illegal activity, then you should contact your bank immediately to clear this up and remove the freeze.

2. You owe a debt to a creditor or debt collector

If you have unpaid debts, your creditors may be able to get the bank to freeze your account. They would then be able to go into your account and pull money to pay off your debt. They must first get approval from the courts by getting a judgment against you. The judgment would then be sent to the bank, and they would have this on file.

It is also important to be aware that if you have a defaulted loan at the same institution as your bank account, the lender can access your account to pay the defaulted loan without obtaining a judgment. You agree to this when you sign the loan.

3. You owe a debt to the government

If you owe student loans or taxes to the government, you might find your bank account automatically frozen by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). They can issue a tax levy for any unpaid taxes, which will not be lifted until the debt is fully paid.

The government can do a few different things for unpaid student loans. They can either take your tax refund or garnish your wages. Garnishing wages is more common without pursuing a judgment from the courts.

However, even if your bank account is frozen because of debt collectors, your bank cannot be wiped completely. There are laws that govern how much can be garnished based on the state you live in. Additionally, there is a limit to what type of income can be taken from you. For example, in certain states, it is illegal for creditors to withdraw Social Security benefits, child support, or workers' compensation. When your account is frozen, you will need to file a claim of exemption within 10 days.

You can reverse a frozen bank account

When your bank account is frozen, you may have automatic deposits that you can no longer access. The issue with a frozen bank account is that it will allow those deposits to go in, but you will not be able to get them out. This means you will be risking all of your new money as well. So, if your account is frozen, you should stop direct deposits so that you can have access to your money.

Fighting a bank levy

When you receive a notice of a bank levy, you will also be given information that includes your rights, how to object to having your funds frozen, and who the creditor is. If you wish to challenge the levy, there are a few things you can do.

First, you should check the statute of limitations on the debt, which is the legal time period that a creditor has to sue someone for debt. The statute of limitations is different in every state. If the debt is within the time limit, you can try reaching out to the creditor to negotiate a payment plan. Many creditors and debt collectors are willing to work with you if you're in a financial bind.

Finally, you can turn to legal means to fight the bank levy. If you never heard about the lawsuit, and therefore lost by default, you can try filing a Motion to Set Aside Judgment (also known as a Motion to Vacate Judgment). This type of motion asks the court to void the judgment and gives you time to respond to the lawsuit. This can stop bank levies in their tracks.

Let's consider an example.

Example: Marcos tries to withdraw some money from his bank account in California, and he is told that his funds have been frozen. He does some investigating and finds out that he was sued for an old credit card debt, did not respond in time, and lost by default. The creditor is now coming after his account to get the funds back. Marcos finds out that you have 180 days to file a Motion to Vacate Judgment in California to reverse the court's decision. He uses SoloSuit to create the motion document and submits it to the court. The court accepts his motion, and Marcos is free to properly respond to the lawsuit and access his bank account again.

Here's how to prevent your bank account from being frozen

There are steps that you can take in order to avoid having your bank account frozen or to attempt to have your funds released if they have been frozen.

Never ignore a debt collector

If you want to avoid having your bank accounts frozen, then it is important to always respond to debt collectors. The goal would be to pay off your debts, if possible, but if this is not possible, then you can attempt to settle the debt. Usually, you would settle the debt by paying a lump sum for less than owed or agree to a payment plan. In many cases, especially government entities, if you ask for the attachment to be released after scheduling a payment plan, they will comply. You can always contact the creditor to see if you can make a deal.

Direct deposit all government assistance funds

There are laws in place which require banks to review anyone who is subject to a frozen account. If you have government benefits, such as social security, that are deposited directly into your account, that money cannot be frozen.

Additionally, any money from your benefits deposited within two months prior to the garnishment cannot be frozen either. The bank is required to make sure that you have at least two months worth of Social Security benefits in your account available. The only exception is for past-due child support and federal taxes.

If your Social Security deposits are mixed in with other funds, or you have more than two months of deposits in the same account then some of your funds can be frozen.

Claim exemptions

There are also some funds that are exempt from being frozen due to specific state laws. If these funds are frozen, you can file a paper with the court explaining the specific exemption, and why you believe you qualify for the exemption. You will also need to request a court hearing where you will have to ask for them to lift the freeze on your funds. Funds that are exempt from garnishment include the following:

  • Veterans Administration benefits
  • Social Security disability benefits
  • Social Security retirement benefits
  • Child support
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits

What does it mean to freeze assets and bank accounts?

To freeze assets and bank accounts means using legal action to stop someone from using their money or property. This action can be taken under various legal contexts, often involving debt collection.

Having your bank accounts frozen means you cannot withdraw, transfer, or use the frozen funds. It could lead to further legal actions, such as lawsuits for recovery of debts and may negatively impact your credit score.

Here are some of the legal parameters for bank and asset freezing:

  • Court Orders: As per legal frameworks like the U.S. Bankruptcy Code (11 U.S.C. § 362), a court can order the freezing of assets and bank accounts during legal proceedings to prevent the dissipation of assets.
  • Federal and State Laws: Each state has unique rules of civil procedure that govern the freezing of bank accounts and assets, but most states allow creditors to freeze a bank account and even take money out of it if the court has ordered a judgment in their favor.
  • International Sanctions: Under laws like the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), the U.S. government can freeze assets and bank accounts of entities under sanctions.

Let’s look at an example of banks freezing accounts.

Example: Justin, a resident of Texas, owes a significant credit card debt. After failing to respond to the debt collection efforts, the credit card company files a lawsuit. As per Texas Property Code Ann. §31.002, the court grants a judgment in favor of the creditor. Subsequently, the creditor requests the court to issue an order to freeze Justin’s bank accounts to recover the debt. Justin finds his accounts frozen, which means he can't access the funds or make any transactions. In this case, he must take legal action to challenge the freeze or negotiate a payment plan to release her funds.

If you are facing a frozen bank account or assets, you can take several legal steps to reverse it, including:

  • Filing a Motion to Vacate Judgment: If the freezing is due to a default judgment, as in the case of Jane Doe, one can file a motion to vacate the judgment (also known as a motion to set aside in some states) if they were not properly notified of the lawsuit.
  • Claiming Exemptions: Certain assets may be exempt from being frozen, such as Social Security benefits or child support, as per state laws.

It's crucial for individuals to be aware of their legal rights and the potential remedies available to them when their assets are frozen. This includes understanding the specific legal grounds for the freeze and the procedures for contesting or complying with such actions.

Can a bank freeze my account without notice?

No, a bank is not allowed freeze your account without taking proper legal action, such as filing a lawsuit and obtaining a court order that authorizes the freezing of your account.

For example, if you owe a credit card debt, the bank that issued the card may file a debt lawsuit asking you to pay off the amount you owe, plus interest, attorney fees, and court costs. If the court rules in favor of the bank suing you, they can freeze your account, garnish your wages, and put liens on your property to collect the amount due.

You can prevent a frozen bank account by responding to the lawsuit. To respond, you must file a written Answer into the case. Even if you owe the full amount claimed, you should respond to prevent a default judgment, then work with the bank to settle the account.

Respond to a debt lawsuit to avoid a frozen bank account

The best way to avoid garnishment or bank levies is to respond to a debt lawsuit as soon as you receive notice of it. Most Americans do not know how to respond to debt lawsuits, so they ignore them, and this leads to a default judgment against them. The default judgment gives the debt collector or creditor the right to garnish wages, freeze bank accounts, and seize property. You can avoid a frozen bank account by filing a written Answer to the lawsuit in court.

Here are 3 most steps to respond to a debt lawsuit:

  1. Create an Answer document where you respond to each claim listed in the Summons and Complaint
  2. Include a section where you assert your affirmative defenses
  3. File your Answer document with the court and send a copy to the plaintiff

Check out this video to learn more about each step:

What is SoloSuit?

SoloSuit makes it easy to respond to a debt collection lawsuit.

How it works: SoloSuit is a step-by-step web-app that asks you all the necessary questions to complete your answer. Upon completion, you can either print the completed forms and mail in the hard copies to the courts or you can pay SoloSuit to file it for you and to have an attorney review the document.

>>Read the NPR story on SoloSuit

Respond with SoloSuit

"First time getting sued by a debt collector and I was searching all over YouTube and ran across SoloSuit, so I decided to buy their services with their attorney reviewed documentation which cost extra but it was well worth it! SoloSuit sent the documentation to the parties and to the court which saved me time from having to go to court and in a few weeks the case got dismissed!" – James

Get Started

How to Answer a Summons for debt collection in all 50 states

Here's a list of guides on how to respond to a debt collection lawsuit in each state:

The Ultimate 50 State Guide

Guides on how to resolve debt with every debt collector

Are you being sued by a debt collector? We’re making guides on how to resolve debt with each one.

Resolve your debt with your creditor

Some creditors, banks, and lenders have an internal collections department. If they come after you for a debt, Solosuit can still help you respond and resolve the debt. Here’s a list of guides on how to resolve debt with different creditors.

Settle your medical debt

Having a health challenge is stressful, but dealing medical debt on top of it is overwhelming. Here are some resources on how to manage medical debt.

Guides on arbitration

If the thought of going to court stresses you out, you’re not alone. Many Americans who are sued for credit card debt utilize a Motion to Compel Arbitration to push their case out of court and into arbitration.

Below are some resources on how to use an arbitration clause to your advantage and win a debt lawsuit.

Stop calls from debt collectors

Do you keep getting calls from an unknown number, only to realize that it’s a debt collector on the other line? If you’ve been called by any of the following numbers, chances are you have collectors coming after you, and we’ll tell you how to stop them.

Federal debt collection laws can protect you

Knowing your rights makes it easier to stand up for your rights. Below, we’ve compiled all our articles on federal debt collection laws that protect you from unfair practices.

Get debt relief in your state

We’ve created a specialized guide on how to find debt relief in all 50 states, complete with steps to take to find relief, state-specific resources, and more.

Debt collection laws in all 50 states

Debt collection laws vary by state, so we have compiled a guide to each state’s debt collection laws to make it easier for you to stand up for your rights—no matter where you live.

Statute of limitations on debt state guides

Like all debt collection laws, the statute of limitations on debt varies by state. So, we wrote a guide on each state’s statutes. Check it out below.

Statute of Limitations on Debt Collection by State (Best Guide)

Check the status of your court case

Don’t have time to go to your local courthouse to check the status of your case? We’ve created a guide on how to check the status of your case in every state, complete with online search tools and court directories.

How to stop wage garnishment in your state

Forgot to respond to your debt lawsuit? The judge may have ordered a default judgment against you, and with a default judgment, debt collectors can garnish your wages. Here are our guides on how to stop wage garnishment in all 50 states.

How to settle a debt in your state

Debt settlement is one of the most effective ways to resolve a debt and save money. We’ve created a guide on how to settle your debt in all 50 states. Find out how to settle in your state with a simple click and explore other debt settlement resources below.

How to settle with every debt collector

Not sure how to negotiate a debt settlement with a debt collector? We are creating guides to help you know how to start the settlement conversation and increase your chances of coming to an agreement with every debt collector.

Other debt settlement resources

Personal loan and debt relief reviews

We give a factual review of the following debt consolidation, debt settlement, and loan organizations and companies to help you make an informed decision before you take on a debt.

Civil law legal definitions

You can represent yourself in court. Save yourself the time and cost of finding an attorney, and use the following resources to understand legal definitions better and how they may apply to your case.

Get answers to these FAQs on debt collection

How-to debt guides

Learn more with these additional debt resources