Can a Creditor Garnish My Social Security Benefits?
Generally, Social Security Benefits are exempt from garnishment, except for debts to the U.S. Treasury, or child support or alimony (family support) If your creditor is for other debt, they usually don't garnish the Social Security benefit itself, because serving a garnishment on the Social Security Administration has no effect whatsoever.
But the creditor can garnish your bank account, where you deposited your Social Security benefits.
What to Do If You Get Social Security Benefits and Are Served with a Lawsuit or Garnishment
You may want to consider filing a bankruptcy and eliminating the debt. You will not lose your social security benefits in bankruptcy. Either a Chapter 13 debt repayment plan, or Chapter 7, may handle the debts and prevent garnishment.
If you don't want to or cannot file bankruptcy, you will have to deal with the problem in state court, which is messy. Do get an attorney to help you. Many courts have free help desks if you cannot afford an attorney. If you get a lawsuit or garnishment and your only income is Social Security, immediately cease having your benefits deposited into any bank acount. If you are garnished without knowing about it, you may file a motion in the garnishment court to exempt your Social Security benefits that are in that bank account. You will then have to take a release of the garnishment to your bank.
How to Claim Your Benefits as Exempt from Garnishment
You must claim your benefits as exempt in an answer to the garnishment summons, and get a judge to rule on what part of your bank account contains social security benefits. Following is the exemption to claim:
20 CFR 404.970 SSR 79-4 Social Security benefits are exempt from execution, levy, attachment, garnishment, or other legal process, or from the operation of any bankruptcy or insolvency law. The exceptions are (1) for the collection of delinquent Federal taxes and certain delinquent child support payments; and (2) to enforce a child support or alimony obligation.
Section 207 of the Social Security Act provides: "The right of any person to any future payment under this title shall not be transferable or assignable, at law or in equity, and none of the moneys paid or payable or rights existing under this title shall be subject to execution, levy, attachment, garnishment, or other legal process, or to the operation of any bankruptcy or insolvency law."
Additional resources provided by the author
The Social Security Administration has info on the exemption, but is of no help in resolving claiming your exemption.