Yes, depending on the type of debt. Social Security benefits and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) payments can be garnished to pay child support and alimony; court-ordered restitution to a crime victim; back taxes; and non-tax debt owed to a federal agency, such as student loans or some federally funded home loans.
There are limits on how much of your payment can be garnished:
- If you are in arrears on federal income taxes, in most cases the Internal Revenue Service can take no more than 15 percent of your monthly Social Security benefit.
- The garnishment rate for defaulted student loans is also 15 percent but, unlike with taxes, garnishment can’t leave you with less than $750 in benefits a month.
- If you are behind on court-ordered child support or alimony, the federal Consumer Credit Protection Act (CCPA) allows garnishment of up to 50 percent of your benefits if you are supporting a spouse or child apart from the subject of the court order and up to 60 percent if you are not. (Another 5 percent can be tacked on if you are 12 or more weeks in arrears.) Most states follow the CCPA, but some have their own regulations on how much of a debtor’s income can be garnished; if there is a conflict, the lesser amount applies.
Social Security benefits are protected when it comes to private debt like medical costs, car loans and credit card bills. Creditors in such cases can get a court order to garnish money from your work paychecks or bank accounts, but federal law prevents them from touching Social Security benefits.
Keep in mind
- If you believe your benefits are being garnished in error, Social Security can’t help you. You’ll have to take it up with the government body that says you owe the money — for example, the IRS or the state court overseeing your child support.
- Garnishment protection is stronger for Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Payments under this Social Security–administered program cannot be garnished for private debt or for any of the reasons noted above.