Social Security: Can Debt Collectors Garnish Your SSI Payments?

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If you collect Social Security, some of 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 — but not if those benefits are through the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program.

Unlike regular Social Security payments, SSI payments cannot be levied or garnished, according to the Social Security Administration. This rule applies even if you have unpaid federal income taxes.

As the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau noted, Social Security and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits can sometimes be garnished to pay certain government debts, such as back taxes or federal student loans, and debts for child or spousal support. However, SSI benefits are protected from garnishment — even to pay a government debt or child or spousal support.

The SSI program is overseen by the SSA and provides a monthly benefit to adults and children with a disability or blindness and resources below certain financial limits. SSI payments are also made to seniors 65 and older who meet the financial qualifications even if they’re not disabled. You might be eligible for SSI benefits even if you already receive Social Security Disability Insurance or retirement benefits.

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Although SSI benefits can’t be garnished, that’s not the case with other types of Social Security payments. As previously reported by GOBankingRates, the SSA 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.

If your benefits are being garnished due to unpaid federal taxes, your best course of action is to work out a resolution with the IRS, either on your own or with the help of a tax debt resolution expert. Some tax debt resolution companies, such as Tax Relief Advocates, offer a free consultation with an expert who can assess your situation and map out a plan to reduce and pay off your debt.

You don’t have to worry about these garnishments with SSI benefits. If someone attempts to garnish your SSI payments, the CFPB recommends immediately notifying the court, the bank and the person/business that is garnishing your account in writing to let them know you receive SSI benefits. You should also seek help from a lawyer.

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Depending on your income, you might be eligible for free legal help. The Center for Elder Rights Advocacy can refer you to a local agency that provides free legal help to seniors who qualify. Contact the Center for Elder Rights Advocacy at 866-949-2372.

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