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Can Your Social Security Payments Be Garnished?

In some cases the government can seize your benefits

Q. If I’m late on my credit card or auto loan payments, can those companies garnish my Social Security benefits?

A. No. Your benefits are protected from garnishment by Section 207 of the Social Security Act. This section makes it illegal for a business to attempt to collect a debt by garnishing your benefits. If the money is somehow garnished anyway, you can cite Section 207 to help get it back. 

See also: Can you forgo Medicare Part B if you have VA medical coverage?

But there are circumstances when the federal government is permitted to garnish your benefits. For instance, Social Security can withhold money:

  • To enforce child support or alimony obligations.
  • To enforce a valid garnishment for court-ordered victim restitution.
  • To collect unpaid federal taxes.

For more details, see "Garnishing Social Security Benefits Due to a Debt" and "Garnishing Social Security Benefits."

Q. Social Security owes me several benefit checks. While I wait for payment, can I collect interest on that money?

A. Sorry, but while Social Security says it regrets any delay in the payment of benefits, it also notes that nothing in the law permits it to pay interest to people who are kept waiting. "It is our policy to pay benefits and make any necessary changes as soon as we become aware that benefits are due or that corrections are needed," says the agency. 

Stan Hinden, a former columnist for the Washington Post, wrote How to Retire Happy: The 12 Most Important Decisions You Must Make Before You Retire. Have a question for the Social Security Mailbox? Check out the archive. If you don't find your answer there, send a query.

You may also like: How to have fun on a fixed income.

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