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Can Debt Collectors Garnish Social Security?

When people borrow money, they usually plan on paying it back. Unfortunately, however, certain events, such as illness or job loss, can interfere with a person’s ability to honor his or her financial commitments. Failing to pay a debt can result in several negative consequences, including lawsuits, credit damage, and even wage garnishment. In this article, we examine whether a debt collector can garnish a debtor’s Social Security benefits.  

Types of Protected Benefits

In most cases, a debt collector cannot garnish Social Security benefits if a recipient receives them via direct deposit to his or her bank account. If a debtor receives Social Security benefits on a prepaid card, these funds are usually safe as well. This protection against Social Security benefits garnishment applies even if the court enters a judgment against the debtor following a successful lawsuit by a debt collector. In fact, a debt collector’s threat to garnish a debtor’s Social Security benefits may constitute a violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. In addition to Social Security payments, the following benefits are protected from garnishment:

  • Supplemental Social Security Income 
  • Federal Employee Retirement System benefits
  • Veterans’ benefits
  • Federal Railroad retirement, unemployment, and sickness benefits
  • Civil Service Retirement System benefits


Although a debtor’s Social Security benefits are generally safe from garnishment, there are circumstances under which they may be at risk. Specifically, a debtor’s Social Security benefits may be at risk if he or she owes any of the following:

  • Federal student loans
  • Federal income tax
  • Delinquent child support 
  • Delinquent spousal support

In cases in which the creditor is the federal government, such as cases involving delinquent federal student loan or federal income tax payments, funds from a debtor’s Social Security benefits can be withheld. When this occurs, 15% of the debtor’s benefits can be garnished to repay back taxes. And if the debtor owes child support, the government can garnish anywhere from 50% to 65% of his or her Social Security benefits. In addition, if a debtor receives Social Security benefits via a paper check, his or her benefits may be vulnerable to garnishment.

Contact a California Debt Collection Lawsuit Defense Attorney 

If you are concerned that your Social Security or other benefits may be subject to garnishment following a lawsuit by a debt collector, you should contact an experienced and knowledgeable California debt collection lawsuit defense attorney as soon as possible for assistance. At the Fullman Firm, our California attorneys are passionate about fighting for the rights of consumers. Therefore, when you come to us for assistance with your California debt collection lawsuit case, we will do everything in our power to ensure that your case has a successful outcome. If you are in need of assistance with your California debt collection lawsuit, please contact us today to schedule a free consultation with one of our talented attorneys.