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Garnishing Federal Benefits

How does my bank account get garnished?

If a creditor or a collector obtains a judgment against you, it can ask a state court to issue an order garnishing your bank account. The creditor or collector will send this garnishment order to your bank and it usually requires the bank to hold the money until the court has made a final decision as to whether the money must be paid to the creditor. In some states, you have the right to receive a notice informing you that a judge has issued a garnishment order for the money in your bank account and telling you what to do if you think that some or all of the money in your account is exempt from garnishment. However, sometimes you will not receive a notice before the judge issues its order and the bank freezes your account.

What should I do if my bank account is frozen?

If you haven’t already done so, you should seek an attorney’s help right away. If your bank freezes your account, this prohibits anyone, including you, from getting money out of the account. If you wrote checks or authorized electronic payments that have not cleared yet, they may be returned unpaid. What’s more, your bank may charge you a fee for having insufficient funds (NSF) in your account.

As soon as you find out there’s a freeze on your account, you should make arrangements to prevent outstanding checks from bouncing and prevent the imposition of NSF fees. You might want to contact the people you wrote checks to, for example, and explain that you are working with your bank to resolve the problem.

You also should tell the bank that your account has funds that are exempt from garnishment under federal law and ask that the freeze be lifted immediately. In addition, you should ask that your bank waive or refund NSF fees resulting from the freeze. If the bank refuses to release your exempt funds from the freeze, you probably have to go to court. If the judge decides that your funds are exempt, the bank will be required to lift the freeze.

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