Social security benefits — Can a creditor garnish my bank account and seize my social security funds?

Many people on a fixed income from Social Security end up with judgments against them due to old debts such as credit cards and medical bills. Normally, when a creditor obtains a judgment, they can then take steps to collect such as garnishment of wages or bank accounts, or seizure (also known as levy) of property. Social Security benefits, however, have special protections under the law.

When a bank or credit union receives a garnishment notice, it must review the history of the account being garnished to determine if a benefit payment was deposited into the account during the previous two months. Within two business days of receiving the garnishment notice, the financial institution must notify you if the funds are protected from garnishment. If the funds are identified as Social Security benefits, the bank cannot freeze the funds. You must be given “full and customary access” to the funds. And, the bank cannot collect a garnishment fee from the protected funds.

Of course, even if the judgment creditor cannot garnish your bank account, it may take other steps to collect, including seizure of property. And, most judgments act as a lien against your home, preventing you from selling or borrowing money against the property without paying off the judgment. If you are served with a lawsuit, it is critical that you get good legal advice immediately! Ignoring the lawsuit is never a good idea.

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