Friday, March 2, 2007

Garnishing Social Security Benefits

I find it odd that many people I talk to receiving Social Security benefits do not know that their money cannot be be taken by a creditor. The governing law bars the assignment or attachment of Title II benefits through execution, levy, attachment, garnishment or any other legal process unless another federal law specifically allows a creditor to take the Social Security money. Taxes and student loans can be offset against Social Security benefits.

For run of the mill debts, Social Security benefits cannot be garnished or attached. That includes bank accounts where the person deposits Social Security benefits. This from the Department of Health Human Services describes the law:

The U.S. Supreme Court has held that Social Security funds deposited into a bank account "retained the quality of 145moneys’ within the purview of section 407[.]" Philpott v. Essex County Welfare Bd., 409 U.S. 413, 93 S.Ct. 590, 34 L.Ed.2d 608 (1973). Courts have also held that the funds remain exempt from legal process even if they are commingled in a bank account with other funds, so long as they are reasonably traceable to Social Security. NCNB Fin. Servs. V. Shumate, 829 F.Supp. 178 (W.D. Va. 1993), affd. 45 F.3d 427, cert. Denied 115 S.Ct. 2616. Since the prohibition on the attachment of SSI payments is based on the same statutory provisions as apply to Social Security, i.e. section 207 of the Act (42 U.S.C. 407), the reasoning in these cases would apply equally to SSI payments.