Can My Retirement & Social Security Be Garnished?

The government can garnish Social Security and retirement benefits.
The government can garnish Social Security and retirement benefits. (Image: Image by, courtesy of lost in translation) (Gordana Adamovic-Mladenovic)

If you are living on the income provided by Social Security or a retirement pension, you may have concerns about a debt collector’s ability to garnish your income to recover a debt. Generally, a private creditor cannot do so, but the government can.


Private creditors, such as credit card companies and collection agencies, are not permitted to garnish Social Security or retirement income. The federal government, however, can.


The government may garnish your Social Security or retirement pay for unpaid taxes, child support or alimony.


The Consumer Credit Protection Act states that the amount of any garnishment, including those levied by the federal government, cannot exceed 25 percent of your disposable weekly income.


Unlike a private creditor, the government is not required to sue you and obtain a court judgment against you in order to proceed with a garnishment.


In addition to garnishing your retirement and Social Security checks, the government may also garnish your bank accounts or place a lien against any property that you own.

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