Can a Bill Collector Garnish My Social Security Disability or SSI?

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Question

I'm being hounded by creditors because I am behind on my bills. Can they garnish my disability check?

Answer

No, generally, a bill collector cannot garnish your Social Security disability benefits -- neither SSDI (disabiliy insurance) or SSI (Supplemental Security Income). Your disability income is exempt from creditors, subject to a few exceptions.

Exceptions. The federal government can garnish your Social Security disability benefit to recover money owed to it, such as back taxes or defaulted student loan payments that have been guaranteed by the federal government. Additionally, your SSDI disability benefit can be garnished to recover back or current child support obligations. (Read more about disability benefits and child support.) If you receive SSI, it cannot be taken to pay even child support, student loan payments, or unpaid taxes.

Illegal garnishment. Despite the rule, Social Security disability and SSI money is sometimes illegally garnished or levied from bank accounts. Banks used to be allowed to comply with court orders for garnishment without checking the source of the income. However, a new federal law passed in 2011 requires banks to review accounts before garnishing money to see if Social Security funds have been deposited. For moreinformation, see Nolo's article on Protections for Social Security Funds in Bank Accounts.

To protect your disability money, if you think a garnishment order may be filed against you, you can file a document with the court stating that your income is protected from creditors.

Updated by: , J.D.

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