Can Social Security Be Garnished?

In this article...
  • Social Security benefits can be garnished, but only for unpaid federal taxes, federal student loans, child support, alimony or court-ordered victims’ restitution. Commercial creditors cannot collect from Social Security for unpaid debts.

Social Security benefits can be garnished, but only in certain situations.

According to the Social Security Administration (SSA), your benefits can be garnished for:

  • Any unpaid Federal taxes
  • Unpaid Federal student loans
  • Unpaid child support
  • Unpaid alimony
  • Court-ordered victims’ restitution

The Department of the Treasury's Financial Management Service can also offset, or reduce, your Social Security benefits to collect delinquent debts owed to other Federal agencies, such as student loans owed to the Department of Education.

By law, SSA can garnish current and continuing monthly benefits. It does not make retroactive adjustments.

Can Commercial Creditors Garnish My Social Security?

A commercial creditor is not allowed to garnish federal benefit payments, including Social Security, Veterans Affairs benefits, railroad retirement benefits and the Office of Personnel Management benefits.

Debts from medical bills, personal loans and payday loans also cannot lead to your Social Security benefits being garnished.

When Does the Federal Government Garnish Social Security?

Owing the federal government is different than if you owe commercial creditors.

I Owe Money for Unpaid Federal Taxes

It you owe back taxes. the Treasury Department is allowed to garnish 15% of your Social Security.

I Owe Money for Unpaid Alimony or Child Support

The federal government can also garnish Social Security for unpaid alimony or child support. It can garnish up to 65% of your Social Security benefit.

I Defaulted on My Federal Student Loans

Those who owe a federal student loan payment may have their Social Security benefits garnished for up to 15% of the outstanding debt. However, the first $750 of a monthly Social Security and retirement benefits is exempt. The government can only take 15% of any payment over that $750.

This does not apply to private student loans.

Bank Review Process for Garnished Social Security Benefits

If your bank receives an order from the federal government to garnish your Social Security benefits, it has two business days to review the order.

If the bank receives an order to garnish your Social Security benefits to pay unpaid federal taxes or unpaid child support, the bank is allowed to freeze those accounts.

How Do I Avoid or Appeal Social Security Garnishment?

The IRS will allow you to make arrangements to pay off back taxes or child or spousal support. With these arrangements in place, it will not garnish your Social Security benefits unless you fail to meet your agreed-upon obligations. In that case, the Social Security administration can once again garnish your benefits.

You cannot appeal to Social Security for implementing garnishment orders. If you disagree with the garnishment, SSA suggests that you contact an attorney or representative in the state where the court issued the order.

Contact the Internal Revenue Service at 1-800-829-7650 to discuss any appeal rights.

About the Author

David Levine is an award-winning writer and editor whose work has been featured in the New York Times, New York Daily News, Sports Illustrated, American Heritage, U.S. News & World Report and others.

David has covered health, health insurance and health policy topics – among many others – since 2017. He earned a Bachelor's Degree in English from the University of Rochester and currently lives in Albany, New York.

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