No, they cannot garnish your Social Security, but you need to a few precautions to protect the money once it is deposited into your bank account.
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).
NOTE: SSI payments are not subject to garnishment.
Section 207 bars garnishment of your benefits. It can also be used as a defense if your benefits are incorrectly garnished. SSA has 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.
However, the creditor may go after your bank account or other assets. You may lose part of the federal Social Security protection if you co-mingle your SSA money with other monies. Check with an attorney in your state.
Federal regulations require that banks which receive a garnishment order for an account into which Social Security, VA, Railroad Retirement, or Federal pensions have been deposited, must look more closely before honoring the garnishment order. The bank has to figure out the sum of such Federal benefit payments that have been deposited to the account during a two month period, and must ensure that the account holder has access to an amount equal to that sum or to the current balance of the account, whichever is lower.
Under this regulation, you do not forfeit your protection from garnishment by mingling your Federal checks with other money -- but there are limits on the amount of money in your account that's protected from garnishment. Only 2 months worth of benefits are protected. Additionally, don't transfer benefits to another account or else the protection is void.
Federal law says that many Federal benefit payments like Social Security benefits, Supplemental Security Income benefits, Veteran’s benefits, Railroad Retirement benefits, and benefits from the Office of Personnel Management are not subject to garnishment in most cases. This means that these funds are exempt.
Your bank may be required to automatically protect some of your Federal benefits if they are direct deposited into your bank account and you may be able to stop your creditors from taking other exempt funds from your bank account.
Disclaimer Information on this site is provided by Brian Scott Wayson as general information, not legal advice, and use of this information does not establish an attorney-client relationship. If you have questions about your specific situation, please call an attorney.
My colleague's answer is good. I suggest for the time being you keep your money from SSA in a separate account, away from any other money. And, talk to a bankruptcy attorney in your area - depending on your bills it may be worth considering as an option. And finally, talk to an attorney about why the insurance did not paythe bills - you may have appeal rights or, if the facts are egregious enough, you may have a claim against the insurance company.
I hope this helps - best ofuck to you!
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I would only note, in addition to what has already been well said, that a creditor normally can't even try to run a garnishment on you until it has a judgment. So if you're only being annoyed or threatened, but haven't actually been sued, you shouldn't be seeing an actual attempt at garnishment yet. Also, if the harassment is coming from an outside debt collector rather than from the hospital's in-house collection people, you probably have the right under federal law to stop the debt collector's efforts by making a simple written request. That won't stop the hospital from hiring a new collector or suing you, but it may get you a breather. My suggestion is to just politely tell the collector that you don't have the money to pay the bill (assuming that's true), and that your only income is from Social Security disability. Be ready to repeat that a number of times, staying calm and polite while you do so. Eventually they may get the message that they can't really expect to get any money from you, and either give up or at least put your file at the back of the cabinet.
A good resource for people who are having debt problems is a book called "Surviving Debt," published by the National Consumer Law Center. Good luck!