There are a number of circumstances in which the Federal government can garnish “regular” Social Security benefits (See below, SSI benefits can never be garnished). They include:
- To enforce child support or alimony obligations under Section 459 of the Social Security Act;
- Internal Revenue Service (IRS) can levy against benefits to collect unpaid Federal taxes according to Section 6334(c) of the Internal Revenue Code;
- IRS can collect taxes due by levying up to 15 percent of a monthly benefit until the debt is paid;
- IRS allows beneficiaries to have a portion of their check withheld to satisfy a current year Federal income tax liability according to Section 3402 (P) of the Internal Revenue Code;
- Other Federal agencies can collect money from benefits to pay a non-tax debt owed to that agency according to the Debt Collection Act of 1996 (Public Law 104-134); and
- Under the Mandatory Victim Restitution Act, certain civil penalties provide the right to garnish benefits under 18 USC 3613.
However, if a creditor other than the federal government tries to garnish your Social Security benefits, inform them that such an action violates Section 207 of the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. 407).
Section 207 bars garnishment of your benefits. It can also be used as a defense if your benefits are incorrectly garnished. Our responsibility for protecting benefits against garnishment, assignments and other legal processes usually ends when the beneficiary is paid. However, once paid, benefits continue to be protected under section 207 of Act as long as they are identifiable as Social Security benefits.
NOTE: Supplemental Security Income payments cannot be levied or garnished.