Many seniors wrongfully believe that once they reach the golden age of maturity and begin collecting social security retirement, those benefits are exempt from debt collectors and their social security retirement checks cannot be garnished—nothing is further from the truth.
What is true, according to the Social Security Administration (SSA), is that social security benefits are “Exempt from execution, levy, attachment, garnishment, or other legal process; or from the operation of any bankruptcy or insolvency law.” For example, social security retirement checks cannot be garnished for debts like credit cards, medical bills, etc.; however, there are some very notable exceptions.
Those exceptions, SSA explained, are that such benefits are subject to the authority of the Secretary of the Treasury to make levies for the collection of delinquent federal taxes, federal student loans, child support, alimony, victim restitution, and other federal debts.
Nationally, according to a report by CNN Money, more and more seniors are being surprised when their social security retirement checks are garnished for default on an aged and defaulted student loan.
According to the Department of Treasury, in 2006, before the onset of the Great Recession, approximately 47,500 social security checks were garnished nationally for defaulted student loans; by 2015, that number had more than tripled to 156,000 garnishments. That year, the U.S. government collected $150 million through the garnishment of social security checks.
Seniors can begin collecting social security benefits as early as age 62; however, many of those recently impacted by these garnishments the report found, were in their seventies and eighties.
Social Security retirement checks average about $1200 per month while the average amount taken for garnishment is $180 per month. For most of these seniors, social security is their only source of income and such garnishments can be life changing.
Sadly, retirees are not the only Americans increasingly impacted by this growing phenomenon. An increasing number of individuals who receive social security disability payments have also seen their social security checks garnished for defaulted student loan debt. This includes many with mental and/or other health related issues.
One group that has worked with seniors and others on this issue is the non-profit organization, American Student Assistance. For more information on how they can help on the issue visit www.asa.org/advocacy/.