Can Social Security Payments Be Garnished?

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If you collect Social Security, your payments are subject to the same garnishment rules that apply to other types of income. This means your benefits can be withheld to enforce your legal obligation to pay child support, alimony or restitution, according to the Social Security Administration website.

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State laws determine a valid garnishment order, the SSA said on its website. By law, the agency can garnish current and continuing monthly benefits. You can’t appeal to Social Security to challenge a garnishment, either. For that, you’ll need to contact an attorney or representative in the jurisdiction where the court issued the order.

In addition to garnishing your benefits for child support, alimony or restitution, the U.S. Department of the Treasury can withhold Social Security benefits to collect overdue federal tax debts. The Treasury Department can use either a Notice of Levy or the Federal Payment Levy Program to collect overdue federal taxes. This allows the department to withhold up to 15% of your monthly Social Security benefits until you repay the debt.

Again, you can’t appeal a tax garnishment to Social Security. Instead, you will need to contact the Internal Revenue Service at 1-800-829-7650 to discuss your appeal rights.

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The Department of the Treasury can also withhold Social Security benefits to collect delinquent non-tax debts owed to other federal agencies. There is no appeal available under the Social Security Act, so if you find yourself in this situation you can contact Treasury staff at 1-800-304-3107.

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If there are any changes to your garnishment order, you should go to your local Social Security office with a new court order that changes the garnishment of your benefits.

There are limits on how much of your Social Security payment can be garnished, according to the AARP. In addition to the 15% limit on overdue federal taxes, the following limits also apply:

  • Student loans: The garnishment rate for defaulted student loans is also 15%. With student loans, however, the garnishment can’t leave you with monthly benefits of less than $750.
  • Court-ordered child support or alimony: The federal Consumer Credit Protection Act allows garnishment of up to 50% of your benefits if you are supporting a spouse or child apart from the subject of the court order, and up to 60% if you are not. Another 5% can be withheld if you are 12 or more weeks in arrears.
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Most states follow the CCPA, the AARP said, but some have their own regulations on how much income can be garnished for child support or alimony. If there is a conflict, the lesser amount applies.

Your Social Security benefits are not subject to garnishment when it comes to private debt such as medical costs, car loans and credit card bills.

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About the Author

Vance Cariaga is a London-based writer, editor and journalist who previously held staff positions at Investor’s Business Daily, The Charlotte Business Journal and The Charlotte Observer. His work also appeared in Charlotte Magazine, Street & Smith’s Sports Business Journal and Business North Carolina magazine. He holds a B.A. in English from Appalachian State University and studied journalism at the University of South Carolina. His reporting earned awards from the North Carolina Press Association, the Green Eyeshade Awards and AlterNet. In addition to journalism, he has worked in banking, accounting and restaurant management. A native of North Carolina who also writes fiction, Vance’s short story, “Saint Christopher,” placed second in the 2019 Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition. Two of his short stories appear in With One Eye on the Cows, an anthology published by Ad Hoc Fiction in 2019. His debut novel, Voodoo Hideaway, was published in 2021 by Atmosphere Press.
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