Can a debt collector take your benefits directly out of your bank account?

Suppose a debt collector sues you and wins a judgment. It may get a court order to garnish money from your account or benefits received by prepaid card. But the U.S. Department of Treasury requires banks to automatically protect certain federal benefits, IF that money gets deposited directly into your account.

Banks must protect two months’ worth of benefits. So, let’s say you normally get $1,000 per month. Your bank must protect $2,000 of that money, but if you have more than that on deposit, it may be garnished or frozen. Important note: If you receive your benefits by paper check and deposit them into your account, the benefits may be subject to garnishment.

Benefits that must be protected include:

• Social Security

• Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

• Veterans

• Federal Railroad retirement, unemployment and sickness

• Civil Service Retirement System

• Federal Employee Retirement System

There are important exceptions: If you have government debt and debt for child or spousal support, your Social Security or Social Security Disability Income may sometimes be garnished (but SSI cannot be garnished, even to pay for government debt, or child or spousal support).

If your account is garnished or if you have questions, contact the Center for Elder Rights Advocacy at (866)949-2372 or visit Or find legal help in your state by checking your state’s Legal Aid Directory.

Visit Alaska Legal Services’ website at and click “Find Legal Help”.