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Can Social Security Disability Be Garnished?

Hannah Locklear | April 11, 2024

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: In general, SSI cannot be garnished to collect money on a debt owed. However, your certain types of Social Security income can be garnished if you owe taxes, child support, alimony, or a federal student loan.

If your primary source of income is Social Security disability benefits, you may be worried, and rightfully so, about any outstanding debts that you may have. You may be concerned about earning a living while you are physically incapacitated if your Social Security disability benefits are garnished to pay off your debts.

The question is, can your creditor use a court order to garnish your Social Security disability benefits to settle your debts? To answer your question, you will need to understand the law and your rights before making the best plan to manage your debts. This article will do just that.

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What are Social Security benefits?

The Federal Social Security Administration gives out financial benefits called Social Security benefits to eligible American citizens based on their inability to earn income to sustain themselves and their families due to disabilities or retirement.

There are three forms of Social Securities. They include:

  • Supplemental Social Security Income (SSI): These are funds given to eligible disabled adults over 65.
  • Social Security Disability Insurance (SDI): Funds given to physically disabled adults who cannot work because of their condition.
  • Social Security Retirement Benefits (SRB): Income for eligible retired people and their families.

The federal government makes these payments to beneficiaries directly into their bank accounts or a government-issued credit card.

Can SSI be garnished?

No, SSI cannot be garnished, even for debt connected to taxes, child support or alimony, or federal student loans.

So, if you're being sued for credit card debt, your SSI is protected from wage garnishment. However, other Social Security income may be garnished, like SSDI, for taxes, child support and alimony, or federal student loans.

Are your Social Security Benefits safe from creditors?

Legally speaking, any person who takes out a loan or credit is obligated to pay them back as per the terms of the lending agreement. If the person fails to pay the loans, the creditors may sue them to recover their money.

A ruling in favor of the creditors may result in either of the following judgments:

  • Bank account levies: The court orders the debtor's bank to withdraw money from their account without requiring their permission to pay for the loan
  • Garnishments: The court orders a portion of the debtor's income or property be directly paid to the creditors without passing through the debtor (except for child support, entitlements, alimonies, and benefits)

There are some cases where neither of these two judgments applies in a case. In that case, the court may render the debtor as being judgment proof.

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What does it mean to be judgment proof?

When a court cannot pass a garnishment or bank account levies on your case, then you are judgment proof. This situation only occurs if the court is convinced of the following:

  • You have very little income
  • You have no wages to garnish
  • You only have legally protected assets
  • Your main source of income is the federal Social Security benefits

The creditors, or collection agencies working on their behalf, will not have a garnishment order or a bank account levies if the debtor's situation is as described above.

Sometimes, people put together their federal government's Social Security benefits with other private retirement benefits. When that happens, the court may order that some portion of their income be directed towards paying off their debt.

It is always a good idea to separate your entitlements, alimonies, and other retirement benefits from the Social Security Benefits to avoid such situations.

One misconception about being judgment proof is that you will no longer be required to pay your debts. This is not true; in fact, you should be concerned about your credit report and credit scores.

A judgment proof ruling only informs the creditors that you do not have sufficient assets and income to pay off the debt, and it may be pointless to pursue you in court. However, being judgment proof does not stop creditors from making persistent calls, emails, letters, and other debt collection tactics to make you pay them.

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Your social security may be garnished for taxes, child support, alimony, or federal student loans

There are exceptions to being deemed “judgment proof.” Essentially, the state and federal governments may garnish your Social Security or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits if you owe them without needing a court order to do so. The following debts can lead to the garnishment of your Social Security benefits:

Taxes due to the Internal Revenue Services (IRS)

The IRS can collect a portion of your monthly entitlement to settle your outstanding taxes without a court order. The IRS must inform you, in writing, about their plan to collect their money from your Social Security benefits before doing so. More specifically, SSDI can be garnished at 15% to pay back taxes to the IRS, as outlined in Title II of the Social Security Act.

Child support or alimony

If you owe child support or alimony, the court can order that a portion of your SSI be witheld in order to cover these costs, as outlined in 42 U.S. Code § 659.

Federal Student Loans

Federal Student Loans Servicers may also take a portion of your social security benefits to pay for the student loans without needing a court order. If you are a co-signer to a student loan beneficiary, this may also happen to you if the student fails to pay off their student loans. In most cases, older people bear the burden of paying out student loans for young borrowers who fail to pay back their student loans.

What happens to your Social Security benefits if you file for bankruptcy?

If you ever received too much money for your Social Security benefits from the federal government, they may garnish your benefits to recover their money back. This option is very common with the Social Security Income beneficiaries.

Persons eligible for disability benefits may apply for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The bankruptcy code relieves you from any outstanding debts you may have, including credit card debts, medical debts, and any debts not tied to a property. This filing is usually processed within 90 days after approval.

Remember to separate your Social Security benefits from your other benefits accounts so that you do not complicate your case. The complication arises because the disability income, such as the Social Security benefits, are regarded as bankruptcy exemptions as long as they are not mixed with other incomes.

Filing for bankruptcy might be the best solution for debt management if you entirely rely on Social Security benefits as your source of income.

In a nutshell, a creditor cannot secure a court order to garnish or put bank levies on your social security benefits if it is your only source of income.

Only the federal or state governments can garnish your Social security benefits without needing a court order if you owe taxes, student loans or if your account was mistakenly overpaid. Generally, Social Security disability beneficiaries are judgment proof.

What is SoloSuit?

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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.

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