There are special laws in place that protect Social Security checks from debt collectors. You may need to take a few extra steps if you wish to use these laws.
In most situations, there is no way for debt collectors to ever take disability money (except the obvious way = you give it to them).
The rules are different for different kinds of debt. Here you can learn who can and can’t take Social Security money.
If the debt collector can’t take your money, they can’t take it. But they are still going to try to. (They are debt collectors after all!).
Here is how to protect yourself:
How To Protect Your Bank Account from Being Frozen
Sometimes debt collectors try to freeze your bank account. You can thwart their evil plans, but you must take special steps. There are three ways Social Security can send you money:
Direct express cards: Always protected
- Social Security sends you a direct express card with your money loaded on it
- You can use it like a regular credit card
- That’s it. According to the law, your money is automatically protected. Debt collectors cannot freeze this money.
Paper checks: Never protected
- Social Security sends you a paper check in the mail.
- According to the law this money is not protected at all.
- You are allowed to cash the check and take the money out of your bank account.
- If you leave the money in your account, any amount you leave can get frozen. Then you will have to work with the bank or go to court to get it unfrozen.
Direct deposits into your bank account: Protected for 60 days
- Social Security puts money directly into your bank account.
- According to the law, this money is protected for 60 days, as long as you don’t move the money and don’t transfer it into a different account.
- To stay protected, the money needs to be left in the bank account where it was received. If you move the money you will lose all protections.
- Try not to deposit any other kinds of money into this account. If at all possible, try to keep this account Social Security money only.
- Important: To stay protected, the money needs to be either spent or taken out in the bank within 60 days.
- After 60 days, if any amount is left, this money can be frozen.
Special Notes About Backpay
- There are no restrictions on what you do with your backpay money.
- Backpay should be spent within 9 months of receiving it. If you receive multiple checks, then each one has a nine month limit.
- You are allowed to keep your backpay in a bank, or withdraw it in cash, or keep it in any other way you wish.
- After the nine months have passed, any amount you have left over is counted as an asset and should be reported as an asset to Social Security.
- If you have too many assets, your SSI will stop until the assets are spent.
- Do not give your backpay money away and do not transfer it into someone else’s name. You are allowed to spend it, but not give it away.
- If you first became disabled before the age of 22, you can deposit your backpay into an ABLE account. Some people find this a convenient way to store backpay.
If you have ever given the creditor permission to take money directly out of your bank account, then they can just keep taking it forever and none of the protections above will help you until you withdraw the permission. You will need to write to them and withdraw the permission, or close the bank account and go to a new bank.
If you are getting a big backpay check, never put it in an account where you have given creditors permission to take money from your account. Your backpay may suddenly disappear.
If Debt Collectors Try to Freeze Your Bank Account
If follow everything above, and the bank still freezes your account, they have made a mistake. Notify the bank that this account is funds from Social Security (they should automatically know this, but just in case).
If Debt Collectors Take You To Court
I have read that it is important to always go to court and never ignore a court notice. Before your court date, you can send in a form called Objections to Garnishment. Creditors will not be allowed to take any of your Social Security money, and they will be required to return any money they have taken without your permission. Google MC-49 Social Security Objections to Garnishment for more information.
If Debt Collectors Call or Write You
How you respond is important and can make your debt better or worse. You can send them a letter that your income is Social Security funds. Here’s more about how to respond when creditors call you.
What Happens if I Don’t Pay My Debt
It depends on the type of debt and your financial situation. If the only money you have is Social Security, in many cases the answer is: nothing. There may literally be nothing a debt collector can do. In other situations, this may cause issues. Learn more about what happens if you don’t pay your debt.
If I Don’t Pay, Will I Owe Money Forever?
No. Most debt will expire.
If I Do Pay Will I Owe Money Forever?
Maybe. If you keep paying it will never expire. Learn more here.
If You Just Got a Big Backpay Check From Disability
If you are permanently disabled, this may be the last time in your life you have money in the bank. Please think carefully. Don’t make bad choices because you feel pressured or intimidated. I hope you will do what you feel is truly best for yourself and your family and for your future.
Don’t Just Take My Word For It
Financial regulations are complex and can change. Please double check and do more reading before making any important decisions.
- Social Security & Debt Collection from NOLO
- Social Security & Bank Accounts from the Consumer Protection Financial Bureau
“Most of my debts are being erased through bankruptcy, and my federal student loans are getting disability-discharged. I stopped auto-pay on my private student loans and then, for unrelated reasons, changed banks. Phew! I’m not a criminal, for crying out loud, just a sick person trying to get by.”