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Social Security Disability

How to Protect Monthly Payments and Lump Sum Grants

So you have received, or you are about to receive, an award for Social Security. Perhaps you are also receiving a lump sum award for past payments. Many Social Security recipients have old bills they are worried about. Some recipients are tempted to use their lump sum benefit to pay old debts, leaving them penniless. This informational flyer will go over what the law says about your award and explain how you can protect your future benefits and any lump sum award for your needs.

Persons receiving Social Security benefits should understand this important fact: Social Security benefits, including lump sum disability awards, are protected from creditors. They cannot be garnished or taken from you. (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.)

Here are some basic questions and answers regarding your lump sum award and future benefits:

• Do I have to use my award monies to pay old debt I owe?

The short answer is no. Even though your Social Security benefit is paid in a lump sum, it is still protected by law.

• Can collectors garnish my bank account into which my monthly Social Security is deposited?

First a collector must have a judgment before they can attempt to take money from a person’s bank account. That means the collector filed a lawsuit and served you a summons and complaint.

If your bank or credit union receives a garnishment order, the bank must determine if any federal benefit payments were electronically deposited into your account during the last 60 calendar days. Then, the bank or credit union has to make sure you have access to a “protected amount” of your funds. The protected amount is the sum of the federal benefits deposited into your account during the 60-day window. Or, if your balance is less than the sum of these payments, the protected amount is the remaining balance of your account. You may use these funds as you normally would. The idea is that you should have about two months’ worth of benefits to live on. It does not matter where the funds came from at the time of the garnishment – two months are protected automatically.

If your account contains more money than the sum of the benefits deposited during the 60-day period, those funds are subject to the court order. They may be frozen or turned over to your creditor. If those additional funds are also federal benefit payments, you will have to follow a legal procedure (filing a claim of exemption) to get this money back.

• How can I protect my lump sum Social Security award?

Keep your SS payments or award in a separate bank account – an account into which other monies are not deposited. Don’t deposit funds from any other source into this account. That way, you can easily show that all the money in your account comes from Social Security.

• Can anyone take my Social Security?

In most cases, federal law makes it illegal for creditors to touch your Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) payments without your permission. This is also true for Social Security retirement benefits, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and many other federal benefits.

The big exception to this rule is the federal government itself. The government can hold back a portion of your SSDI payments to make up for taxes or other debts you owe to the federal government, as well as unpaid child support or alimony.

• What about student loans and past due taxes?

In most cases, people receiving SSDI can have their student loans discharged. If they owe taxes to the IRS they can be placed on “Currently Not Collectible” status. State revenue agencies cannot garnish Social Security. Money in the same account into which SS is deposited is protected from state tax collectors.

• If I don’t pay my old debt, how can I stop collectors from calling me and sending demand letters?

The federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act provides that when a person sends a collector what is called a “cease and desist” letter, the collector must stop further contact by phone or mail. A sample of a “cease and desist” letter can be found on the internet or at www.helpsishere.org.

• Do I need to file bankruptcy?

Social Security monthly payments and a lump sum award are exempt. They cannot be taken by collectors. There are also means to stop unwanted collector contact by phone or mail. Therefore, bankruptcy may be completely unnecessary for persons receiving Social Security Disability.

• What if I have more questions?

HELPS Nonprofit Law Firm is a 501(c) charity that protects seniors and disabled persons receiving Social Security and disability benefits from unwanted collector contact. We also educate seniors and disabled persons on maintaining their financial independence.

Seniors can learn more about HELPS and how we protect seniors and disabled persons from unwanted collector contact by visiting our website www.helpsishere.org or calling toll free 855 435 7787. HELPS turns no qualified senior away, and the most common thing we hear from the people we help is “HELPS brought peace back to my life.”

 

Eric Olsen, Executive Director HELPS nonprofit law firm.

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