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Home > Reader Questions > Can My Social Security Be Garnished for Student Loans if it is Already Being Garnished? – Deborah

Can My Social Security Be Garnished for Student Loans if it is Already Being Garnished? – Deborah

I am a 51 yr old mom of a 9 year old and live with my disabled (no income yet) fiance. I drew Social Security Disability for years & worked my way off of it. I reported to SS that I had returned to work and assumed they would let me know when I was close to making too much money. Instead: they ended up saying they had paid me $40,000 too much and are now taking 15% of my pages every 2 weeks (approx. $370 mth). Therefore: I have not been able to pay my student loan payments. I have exhausted all deferments on it and am now in default on it. My family can bearly afford to live as it is but; assistance here says I make too much (as they do not consider the amount garnished from my wages). Thank you!

Can Student loans be garnished from wages if Social Security is already garnishing 15%?

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Can My Social Security Be Garnished for Student Loans if it is Already Being Garnished? - Deborah by

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Steve Rhode is the Get Out of Debt Guy and has been helping good people with bad debt problems since 1994. You can learn more about Steve, here.
  • Nartist007

    The following question was submitted to John Roska, an attorney/writer whose weekly newspaper column, “Q&A: The Law,” runs in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Illinois Edition) and the Champaign News Gazette. 
    Question
    Can the government garnish my social security check because I owe money on a student loan?
    Answer
    Social Security benefits can be garnished to repay Federal debts, but never below $750 per month. A garnishment can take 15%, or the amount over $750, whichever is less.
    You’re right that Social Security benefits are generally protected against garnishments. Social Security, along with just about every other government benefit, is “exempt” from collection. That means nobody can get at it to pay a debt.
    Nobody, that is, except Uncle Sam himself, by his G-men at the U.S. Treasury. Since 1996, the Debt Collection Improvement Act has authorized the Treasury Department to collect money owed to the Federal government by garnishing Federal benefits and pay. Within the past few months, garnishments of Social Security benefits have actually begun. Only “non-tax” Federal debts can be collected this way. Such debts can result from (among other things) unpaid student loans, defaulted HUD, FmHA, or FHA mortgages, and overpaid Federal benefits, including Food Stamps.
    You should get lots of advance notice before any garnishment occurs. The agency you owe the money to is supposed to notify you 180 days before your garnishment begins. The agency’s notice should tell you how you can dispute the debt, or have it verified. 
    In addition, Treasury says it will tell you two more times before any money is withheld. Then you should get another notice each time your Social Security check is actually garnished, telling you what agency is being repaid, and how much left there is to repay.
    The most that can be garnished from Social Security benefits is 15%, and your benefits should never be garnished below $750 per month. If, for example, your monthly benefit is $800, 15% won’t be taken—just enough to reduce your check down to the $750 floor.
    Also, only your net monthly benefit gets garnished, after deductions for things like Medicare.
    Supplemental Security Income (SSI) will never be garnished. (Except to repay SSI overpayments, which can be recovered by a 10% reduction of benefits.)
    If you owe the money, about the only thing you can do to stop a garnishment is to pay what you owe, or make a payment arrangement.
    When Federal agencies garnish your pay, it’s called an administrative garnishment. That’s the only garnishment that can happen without first taking you to court.  Regular creditors, unconnected to the Federal government, have to sue and get a court judgment before they can try to garnish your wages.
    Regular creditors however, will never be able to garnish your Social Security check.  For non-Federal debts, Social Security remains off-limits.

  • Msullivan

    Deborah,

    Garnishment is a matter of state law and each state deals with the issues in slightly different ways. To be certain of your situation, you will need to talk with an attorney. Check to see if your community has free legal assistance by contacting the Bar Association.

    In general, I have found that most hearing officers do limit the amount of wages that can be garnished. That may be a statutory (legal) limit or it may be a judge acknowledging that people have to have enough income for food and shelter. Put another way, if the courts took 80% of your income it isn’t likely that you’d show up for work so no one would get anything.

    You need to appear for all hearings and you need to have documentation of all your expenses and obligations. There isn’t much more you can do so hang in there.

    Good Luck!

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