I’m Worried About Having My Social Security Benefits Garnished. – Lisa

“Dear Steve,

Hello, I found your website online by doing a search on Google. I truly hope you can help me.

My question relates to a debt (one of many) that I can’t pay. Around the first week of Jan. 2010, I was served with papers for a credit card debt. It is an account that I have had since 1995. I had a good history of payments with them for a long time. I did get behind severely at one point years back and even managed to get it caught back up and paid off that time. I of course was then allowed to continue to use the account and paid on it on time for another long while.

Then I got remarried and my then new husband decided to quit his job a month after we got married. All this during the time my 14 year old got pregnant. Point being a lot was going on in my life and I was under great stress emotionally and financially. I was balancing both of our debts.

Eventually maintaining my credit cards and my good credit rating gave way to surviving and taking care of my kids and my granddaughter. So the account got behind again. The last payment I was able to make on that one account alone has been years ago. It is now nearing the 7 year mark when the original account would be coming off my credit report.

But now I have the company (or more like the third company) to purchase the account trying to collect on it from me. The same account actually appears three times on my credit report. The original creditor, the company who puchased it from them once charged off, and now the company who bought it from that company. My origianl credit limit was $250.00. Now after fees, fees, and more fees, they are suing me for over $1,000. The court date was originally set for Feb. 5, 2010. The deputy who served them said that it was up to me if I responded but that he advised me to respond so that the judge didn’t think that I didn’t care about the debt (he was very friendly and polite–I have seen him around town and our neighborhood a lot because he is a city police officer and they operate a sub-station out of one of the public housing authority units here).

I DO care about all of my debts and worry about it a lot. It has certainly done nothing for my confidence or self esteem. But there is nothing that I can do about them. I am on Social Security disability and it is my only income. I rent from a public housing authority because it is the only place I can afford to live.

I pay my rent, my electric, I have a cell phone on my grown sons family plan-it is my only phone and my lifeline (I am diabetic and have heart rhythmn problems too and need to be able to call 911 in an emergency), I have basic cable and economy internet to be able to stay in contact with all of my family who live thousands of miles away and it is how I pay my bills (online). Living in the mountains you have to have basic internet to have access to news because there is no picking up anything with an antenae here.

I pay my medicare prescription plan co-pays, and on one rent-to-own acct where I am paying for my mattress set. I don’t own any property and no longer own a car anymore since it was breaking down all the time and I couldn’t afford to fix it. It sat for 8 months last fall/winter and was only repaired then because my daughter and son in law paid to fix it and get it on the road. This last time it was broken down for over six months and had to be moved. Where I live they don’t allow you to leave a car sit broken down and with my health issues and the medications I am on I shouldn’t be driving and honestly no longer wanted to drive. So now I only use the public bus for transportation when I do get out of the house which is becoming more and more rare.

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I am divorced and therefore don’t have to worry about a spouses income being involved in any of this. My three children are grown (23, 21, and 20) and out of the house. It is just me. When I lived in GA back in 2006, I was served with the same sort of papers on an old account with Capital One. I did respond to those papers with my own handwritten response explaining that I was on disability and couldn’t afford to pay the debt. I didn’t go for the actual court hearing though. I then got papers saying that the representative for the credit card company said that I did not present any legal defense to the debt, etc. I was then mailed a paper that said that they were granted a judgment. It is now on my credit report under court records. My credit is ruined and has been for a few years now.

Around the time I was first served with the court papers in 2006 I was so freaked out that I did go talk to a bankruptcy attorney. Although I had no clue how I would pay for his services (the consult was free). When I went in to see him and explained what all was going on he told me that he could file the papers for me and take my money but that it would be a waste because I was judgment proof. He told me that they couldn’t touch my disability check and advised me to just send them a response stating my circumstances and that I couldn’t pay. So I left his office that day not filing for bankruptcy and did as he advised and wrote the response to the lawsuit. I told you the rest above.

Now I have this new case against me. I suffer from severe anxiety, depression, and PTSD (a few of the health related reasons I am on disability in the first place). I fall apart at the thought of having to go out of the house and make it down to the local town where the court house is to appear to even try and explain any of this in a courtroom in front of many strangers. I really couldn’t handle it at all and would be in tears the entire time and would end up looking like a bigger fool than anything. Not to mention transportation would be a problem too aside from my health issues. Point being I did not return the “intent to defend” bottom portion of the court papers.

We recently had a total of 4 feet of snow in our town and the town where the court is. The court thing has now been postponed and rescheduled for March 10, 2010. The paper I got in mail today calls it a “merit trial”. What does that mean? Is it the same type of trial I was unable to attend on the first credit card back in 2006 in GA?

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I have the one judgment on my credit already and am assuming the same thing will happen with this one. I read something online with a similar answer to my similar situation about them being able to get money that is in my checking account. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have money saved. I live check to check. Each month after I pay my bills and buy basic necessities for the house and myself and a few groceries I don’t have much left. Almost ever month it is just under a dollar in there. I am worried however that they will try and attach my social security check at the beginning of the month when it is direct deposited. Can they do that? Should I take my check off of direct deposit? I don’t really know what to do.

My check gets deposited and I pay all of my monthly bills online with the exception of my rent for which I mail a hand written check to my landlord and the bed I am paying on I pay over the phone with a VISA debit card from my checking account. I pay all my bills this way since it is hard for me to get out of the house. Now I am worried I won’t be able to do that if I have to take my check off to prevent them from taking it. I thought they couldn’t touch my income? That is what the lawyer told me. Can you please advise me as to what I should do. Should I just take my check off of direct deposit and go back to the “old-fashioned” way of mailing checks for all my bills? I don’t want to find out one month that I have no way to pay the basic bills I have now!

These collection agencies just don’t seem to care at all whether people are suffering. They seem to enjoy kicking people even when they are down.

Thanks for your help 🙂


Dear Lisa,

Just do what the bankruptcy attorney advised you to do previously. Let the court know your only source of income is social security benefits. Those can’t be touched in this situation.

The creditor can get a judgment but they can’t garnish your benefits or reach into your bank account for your benefits.


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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.
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