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Can a debt collector garnish my federal benefits?

No, in most cases debt collectors and creditors cannot garnish federal benefits.

The CFPB’s Debt Collection Rule clarifying certain provisions of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) became effective on November 30, 2021.

Federal law protects or “exempts” certain funds or benefits from garnishment. Federally exempt benefits include:

  • Social Security benefits
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits
  • Veteran’s benefits
  • Civil service and federal retirement and disability benefits
  • Servicemember pay
  • Military annuities and survivor benefits
  • Federal student aid
  • Railroad retirement benefits
  • Financial assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)

These federal benefits remain exempt from garnishment when directly deposited to your bank account. However, you may have to go to court to assert that protection. Certain federal benefits, such as Social Security, SSI, and Veterans Assistance, have additional protections under federal law when those funds are deposited into a bank account or onto a prepaid card.  

Tip: Even if your account only contains federal benefits that can't be garnished, you should respond to any action seeking a garnishment to make sure your benefits are protected.

Warning: Some of these benefits may be garnished if your debt is for federal taxes, a federal student loan, or child support.