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Can Social Security checks be garnished for civil suit settlement?

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Generally, no. If you are a party to a civil suit, your Social Security benefits cannot be seized or garnished under most circumstances. According to federal law (Section 207 of the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. 407), only the federal government can garnish your benefits, and even then, they typically take only a portion. Benefits may be taken only:
  • to enforce child support or alimony obligations
  • to collect unpaid federal taxes (up to 15% of your monthly benefit)
  • to satisfy a non-tax debt owed to another department of the government
  • to enforce obligations under the Mandatory Victim Restitution Act (18 USC § 3613).

Once the benefit amount is in your possession, however, the government will not help you protect it; you must be able to demonstrate the source of your income is Social Security. If you are in danger of having to pay a settlement in a civil action, the best way to protect your Social Security check is to open a separate bank account used only for deposits from the SSA.

If you also receive Supplement Security Income (SSI), it cannot be garnished or levied by anyone for any reason.


For more information, see Sources and Related Links, below.
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