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Debt collection

Can a debt collector garnish my bank account or my wages?

In some states, a debt collector may be able to garnish your bank account or wages.

Some states don't allow wage garnishments for certain kinds of debt. In other states, debt collectors who sue you in court and win may be able to freeze and take funds from  your bank account or garnish wages. The court's judgment will state the amount of money you owe. A later court order may also state how much may be taken from your bank account or garnished wages. State laws have limits on wage garnishment, to make sure you have something left to live on.

If federal benefits are directly deposited into your bank account, there are additional protections under federal law for some of the funds in your account.

Tip: It's a good idea to seek legal advice if your wages are garnished or funds are frozen or removed from your bank account.

The amount of money you owe could include the original debt as well as other fees or costs as determined by the court.

Tip: If you're having problems paying a debt, don't wait. You may want to consult a credit counselor before a debt collector takes an action like suing you. Credit counselors are organizations that can advise you on managing your money and debts, help you develop a budget, and usually offer free educational materials and workshops. Credit counselors are usually non-profit organizations.

Tip: If possible, consult an attorney if you are sued.

An attorney can represent you if you are sued. Don’t wait until your case has gone to court to get legal help. Once a court has issued a judgment against you it will be much harder and more costly to try to reverse a garnishment order. Your legal costs may end up being less overall if you engage an attorney at the start of the case than if you hire an attorney to help you after an order of garnishment has already been entered against you.

To find an attorney, you can contact a lawyer referral service in your area and ask for an attorney with experience in consumer law, debt collection defense, or the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). Some attorneys may offer free services, or charge a reduced fee. There may also be legal aid offices or legal clinics in your area who will offer their services for free if you meet their criteria. Servicemembers should consult their local JAG office.

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