Can The IRS Or Student Loan Creditors Garnish My Social Security?

Borrowing, Debt Collection, Investing & Retiring, Social Security, Tax Returns, Taxes


By Eric Olsen, Executive Director, HELPS Nonprofit Law Firm

Federal law protects Social Security and retirement incomes from garnishment by almost all collectors. But what about the IRS and student loan debts? The IRS and public student loan lenders can and occasionally will garnish 15% of a senior’s Social Security income. There is much information on the Internet scaring seniors about this practice, but very little information discussing how a garnishment of Social Security for taxes or student loans can be prevented or stopped.

It is not the general practices of the IRS or student loan collectors to garnish other forms of retirement such as pensions or VA benefits. State tax collectors and private student loan collectors cannot garnish Social Security or seniors’ other retirement income. The IRS or a public student loan collector must notify seniors in advance by mail before garnishing their Social Security benefits. Seniors often think they have no other option but to have their income garnished and do nothing. The good news is that garnishment of Social Security from lower-income seniors can be prevented, stopped, or the payments drastically reduced.

How to stop Social Security garnishment by the IRS

Lower-income seniors can apply for and obtain Currently Not Collectible (CNC) status for past IRS taxes and pay nothing. For example, a single senior with a monthly income of less than $2,023, or a couple with monthly income less than $2,743, has income under 200% of the poverty line in most states and should be able to qualify for CNC status with the IRS. Monthly income thresholds in Alaska are $2,530 for singles and $3,430 for couples, while the thresholds in Hawaii are $2,327 for singles and $3,155 for couples. Qualifying for CNC status is not automatic. There are guidelines for allowed expenses which are not advertised by the IRS. Many seniors make payments to the IRS because they think they have no choice, when in fact they would clearly qualify for CNC status. HELPS, my nationwide nonprofit law firm, assists lower-income and poor seniors to stop IRS garnishments and qualify for CNC status every day.Visit this article on the HELPS website for a detailed description of how to apply for CNC status.

How to stop Social Security garnishment for student loans

Well over a hundred thousand seniors and tens of thousands more every year are having 15% of their Social Security benefits garnished for past-due public student loans. Lower-income and poor seniors need to know they can qualify for an “income-driven repayment plan”, which can prevent or stop garnishment of Social Security. Most lower-income or poor seniors who qualify end up paying zero dollars or a minimal amount per month. I would guess that a large majority of seniors being garnished presently for past-due student loans fall into the lower-income bracket and could have the garnishment of their Social Security benefits stopped. The process for obtaining an income-driven repayment plan is a bit more complicated, but again something we at HELPS do to assist seniors every day.

HELPS protects lower-income seniors from unwanted collector contact and educates them now to maintain their financial independence. Part of that is helping seniors in all fifty states who owe past-due taxes and student loans they can’t afford to pay. Learn more about HELPS at www.helpsishere.org or call us toll-free at 855 HELPS-US. We never turn away a qualified senior or disabled person who needs our help.

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