Can Social Security benefits be garnished?

Dear Consumer Ed: 

I receive monthly Social Security benefits that are deposited directly into my bank account.  I just received notice that my bank account was garnished by a creditor and that my funds have been frozen and will soon be turned over to the court.  I thought that Social Security benefits were exempt from garnishments of creditors.  What can I do to stop the garnishment and get access to my money?

Consumer Ed says:

According to both state and federal law, certain funds are exempt from garnishments, meaning they cannot be seized by a creditor as part of a garnishment proceeding.  You are correct that, in many circumstances, Social Security benefits, along with some veterans, unemployment, worker’s compensation and federal employee pension benefits, may be exempt from garnishments. While banks have some responsibilities to make sure that exempt funds remain available to their accountholders, you should nevertheless take action to assert your belief that these funds are exempt before the money is released to the creditor.  Since garnishment proceedings are often expedited and have very short timelines, it is important that you assert your claim quickly and accurately.

When you received the notice of the garnishment, you should have also received a “Defendant’s Claim Form,” which outlines some of your rights and gives you the opportunity to assert that the funds in your account are exempt.  Once you file the Claim Form with the county clerk, the court will likely schedule a hearing within ten days to determine whether your funds are exempt from garnishment.  Many county clerks’ websites also have Defendant’s Claim Forms that you can fill out and submit online.

You may also want to consult with an attorney to ensure your legal rights are protected.

Submit your own question to Consumer Ed.  Remember…we do not give legal advice. Always consult a lawyer about legal issues.

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