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Can a debt collector take my social security or veterans benefits?

Health & Benefits

This article provides answers to what a debt collector can and cannot do to your social security or VA benefits. This article was written by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. 

Can a debt collector take my social security or VA benefits?

Generally no, debt collectors can’t take your social security or VA benefits directly out of your bank account or prepaid card.

After a debt collector sues you for the debt and wins a judgment, it can get a court order for your bank or credit union to turn over money from your account or prepaid card. This is called a “garnishment.” A U.S. Department of Treasury rule requires banks to automatically protect certain federal benefits from being frozen or garnished if they are direct deposited into your account. There are some exceptions to this rule, which are explained below. Read about how the automatic protection works.


Benefits covered by garnishment

  • Social Security
  • Supplemental Security Income
  • Veterans
  • Federal Railroad retirement, unemployment and sickness
  • Civil Service Retirement System
  • Federal Employee Retirement System


Your bank or credit union must automatically protect 2 months’ worth of benefits

If a collector tries to garnish money in your account, your bank must look at your account history to see if you received any of the above benefits by direct deposit in the last 2 months. The bank must protect 2 months’ worth of benefits from garnishment and let you use that money. If your account has more than 2 months’ worth of benefits, your bank can garnish or freeze the extra money. However, if that extra money that is garnished is exempt from garnishment under federal or state law, you may be able to go to court to have your money released.