Can Disability Check be Garnished?

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“Three years ago my husband, a diabetic, who already had heart abnormalities, was diagnosed with cancer. Following a very long and very expensive course of treatment we were left with devastating medical bills. I started to send small payments to try to at least appease the hospital’s collections department. Some time later, due to side effects of Chemotherapy, my husband’s heart problems worsened and he again underwent treatments that were very expensive. My husband would never get well enough to return to work, so he was put on permanent disability. This reduced our income tremendously. Although we were insured, at first privately and then through Medicare, between the medications, the staggeringly expensive chemotherapy treatments, and five surgeries, which included a colostomy and two heart surgeries, the co-pays overwhelmed us. In trying to keep up with paying for medications and whoever had to be paid immediately, I was unable to continue making even small payments to the hospital. Although things have somewhat calmed down, I am still paying for the twelve different medications he takes daily and am left up to my neck in medical debt to two hospitals and several of their physicians. We receive a Social Security Disability check as well as a small disability amount, supplemented by a private insurance company from his former employer. Together these total less than $2200 monthly. I have just received a letter from a lawyer telling me that they will be serving me with a summons to appear in court in thirty days unless I submit a payment of over $4500 before then. They tell me that I will be responsible for the entire amount as well as their legal fees. I can barely pay my daily living expenses. Until my husband is well enough for me to leave him so that I can get out and work the best I can do is send $10 monthly to each hospital and even that small amount will create problems for me. That is however, not even an issue, since they will not settle for small payments. I have been told by several people that disability income can not be garnished; however, I don’t know if that is really true. Even if it is the truth, I don’t know if it will apply to the supplemented amount from the private insurer. Do I have any recourse? Can his disability checks be garnished? Please help.”

[NOTE: Articles and answers on DearEsq., while written and published by lawyers, do not constitute legal advice, and no attorney-client relationship is formed by your reading of this information. You should always consult with an attorney for any legal situations.]

While it is true that there is a clause in Federal law which says that “generally” Social Security and Disability monies cannot be garnished, there are exceptions, and ways in which such funds can be attached. And even if that weren’t the case, you don’t want to have to be in the position of trying to reverse a garnishment, even if it is inappropriately applied.

Your much better option would be to contact both a consumer credit counselling service, and also a low-income legal clinic, in your area. Go over the letter and your circumstances with both of them and see what they recommend. Then also contact a bankruptcy lawyer in the area, who should provide you with a free consultation. Even if you are loathe to consider filing bankruptcy, it may be a very viable option for you, and there is no shame in filing bankruptcy under such an extreme set of circumstances. Even if you will not consider filing bankruptcy, explaining to your creditors that they are driving you to that point, and their choice is to either work with you, or have you file bankruptcy, may cause them to back off (of course, it may not, as, realize, that by pushing your debt to the point where they can call it ‘uncollectable’, they are able to write it off).

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Author: Anne P. Mitchell, Esq.

Anne P. Mitchell, Esq. is a noted family law expert, Internet law expert, and Professor of Law at Lincoln Law School of San Jose. She is the author of "Surviving Divorce: the Single Father's Guide" and "The Email Deliverability Handbook"

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