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Can My Wife's Bank Account Be Garnished for My Debt?

George Simons | December 12, 2023

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.

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.

Summary: If you and your wife reside in a community property state, then there is a legitimate risk that a creditor will garnish wages from a joint bank account to pay a debt that only you owe. In general, your spouse’s wages cannot be garnished for a debt you owe if they have a separate checking account held solely in their name. You can prevent wage garnishment by fighting off debt collectors in court with SoloSuit.

If a creditor files a debt collection lawsuit and obtains a judgment against you, the creditor may attempt to retrieve repayment for the outstanding debt by garnishing your wages and/or seizing funds in your checking account. A common question asked by individuals who find themselves in this situation is: “Can a creditor access my wife's bank account to retrieve funds to pay for my debt?” The answer is… it depends.

The ability to garnish an account depends on multiple factors

The ability of a creditor, or debt collector, to garnish your spouse's bank account depends on multiple factors, including the type of account your spouse uses, the nature of the debt, and the state in which you and your spouse reside.

As a general rule, if your spouse has a separate checking account held solely in their name, then a creditor who obtains a judgment against you cannot get a garnishment order to access your spouse's account. However, the answer is different if you and your spouse have funds in a joint checking account.

If you have a joint checking account with your spouse, the ability of a creditor to access that account to satisfy a debt collection judgment depends primarily on whether you and your spouse reside in a common law state or community property state. Let's take a look at each.

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Community property states allow wage garnishment of joint bank accounts

If you and your wife reside in a community property state, then there is a legitimate risk that a creditor will be able to access a joint bank account to garnish funds to pay a debt only you owe. This is because community property states have laws on the books that treat the property of one spouse in a marriage as the property of the other spouse.

For example, Texas Family Code Sec. 3.202(c)(d) states:

“(c) The community property subject to a spouse's sole or joint management, control, and disposition is subject to the liabilities incurred by the spouse before or during marriage.
(d) All community property is subject to tortious liability of either spouse incurred during marriage.”

In other words, any property that was accumulated during a marriage may be subject to wage garnishment or other liabilities as a result of only one of the spouse’s debts.

Fortunately, most states do not adhere to community property laws. There are currently only nine community property states in America:

  • Arizona
  • California
  • Idaho
  • Louisiana
  • Nevada
  • New Mexico
  • Texas
  • Washington

Let’s consider an example.

Example: Jeff and Suzie live in Arizona, and when Jeff gets sued by LVNV Funding for a debt he owes, he fails to respond before the state deadline. As a result, the court orders a default judgment against him. LVNV Funding is able to access Jeff and Suzie’s join bank account and garnish their wages, including Suzie’s hard-earned cash. This all could have been avoided if Jeff had used SoloSuit to respond to the lawsuit and fight back in court.

Protect your wife's assets from a garnishment

If you reside in a community property state, there are steps you can take to protect your wife and her funds from a garnishment effort sought by your creditors. Specifically, you should maintain separate, independent bank accounts instead of having all your funds in a joint bank account.

Though, it is important to note simply maintaining funds in separate accounts is not a foolproof method to protect your wife's funds. This is because, in many community property states, there are laws on the books that enable a creditor to enforce a judgment by accessing a spouse's bank account since the debt was incurred when you were married and, as a result, the funds in your wife's account are deemed “community debts.”

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Common law property states may protect your spouse from wage garnishment

In contrast to community property states, individuals who reside in common law property states enjoy greater protections from creditor garnishments for funds maintained in a joint bank account. In a common law property state, the general rule is that the debt of each spouse remains their separate responsibility.

However, this general rule is subject to two important exceptions. First, if the debt benefited both spouses, then it may be possible for the creditor to garnish funds maintained in a joint account. Second, if both spouses took out the debt jointly and a judgment was subsequently obtained by a creditor, it exposes the joint account to garnishment.

There are specific funds protected from wage garnishment

It is important to note that even if a creditor secures a garnishment order and has frozen your joint bank account, some funds are protected and cannot be garnished. For example, any funds deposited into the account that are federal benefits (e.g., Social Security disability benefits, Supplemental Security Income, or federal retirement benefits) cannot be garnished by a creditor.

As a general rule, if your wife has a separate bank account held solely in their name, then a creditor cannot access that account to garnish funds to pay for your debt. However, if you and your wife have a joint bank account, there is a risk that a creditor could garnish funds in the joint account, even if a judgment is only entered against you.

Nevertheless, the ability of a creditor to garnish a joint bank account will be impacted by the state in which you reside and the funds maintained in that account.

Avoid wage garnishment

If you’ve been sued for a debt, don’t ignore the lawsuit. You can avoid losing and having your wages garnished by simply responding to the case in court. In order to respond to a debt lawsuit, you must draft and file a written Answer into your case.

Be sure to file your Answer before your state’s deadline, otherwise you run the risk of losing automatically when the court orders a default judgment against you. This type of judgment can lead to wage garnishment and other penalties, so it’s important you take action as soon as you receive notice of the lawsuit.

SoloSuit’s Answer form helps you respond to all the claims against you and present your affirmative defenses, giving you a strong case to fight back against debt collectors in court.

Check out this video to learn more about how to respond to a debt lawsuit and avoid wage garnishment:

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