Leaving old debts unpaid will almost surely result in you receiving telephone calls and letters from collection agencies. These companies will often threaten to sue you and garnish your wages. If the income you receive is exempt from garnishment, however, it cannot be taken from you by force from a collection agency. Although wage garnishment is a valid way for a creditor to force a debtor to pay what he or she owes, not all forms of income are subject to private wage garnishment. Private wage garnishment is any garnishment order obtained by a creditor that is not affiliated in any way with the federal government.


Social Security

Whether you receive Social Security to cover a documented disability or as a form of retirement income, the money you receive is exempt from garnishment. If the money is directly deposited into your bank account by the Social Security Administration, however, your creditor may still attempt to garnish your Social Security payments via a bank levy. This is not permitted. Notify both your bank and the creditor’s attorney if Social Security payments are your sole source of income.


Unemployment checks are intended to help you pay your bills while you search for new employment. Unemployment payments, however, rarely provide individuals with the same standard of living they enjoyed while still employed since the payments equal only a percentage of the original income earned. Creditors can garnish standard wages, but do not have the right to garnish unemployment checks.

Tax Refunds

A federal tax refund can only be withheld in the event that you owe the federal government money or are currently undergoing a bankruptcy. Private creditors have no access whatsoever to your federal tax refund. Your state tax refund is also not subject to garnishment by private creditors. Keep in mind, however, that if you owe medical bills to a state funded hospital, your state tax refund may be intercepted to cover the debt that you owe.

Child Support

If you receive child support payments, these payments are immune from garnishment by either private or government creditors. Child support payments are intended to provide for the needs of a minor child. Because of this, no entity may either garnish or otherwise intercept child support payments that you receive. If you are the non-custodial parent, you may be subjected to a wage garnishment in order to enforce the payment of child support.

Welfare Benefits

Depending on the state you live in, your household may meet the requirements to receive welfare benefits. Welfare benefits are extended to families that would not be able to survive without additional assistance. Although welfare benefits are not permanent, they are necessary for those who receive them to survive month to month. Your welfare benefits cannot be garnished by any private creditor.

Government Retirement Benefits

Although Social Security is the most common government retirement benefit, there are many others that are immune from garnishment as well. If you receive a military pension, or retirement benefits from your years in the civil service, these benefits are yours to keep. They cannot be intercepted or assumed by a private creditor regardless of how much you may owe.

Garnishment laws differ depending on the creditor. Private creditors, such as collection agencies, face much stricter garnishment restrictions than the government. If you owe a debt to the federal government, it is entitled to withhold any form of government benefit that you receive.

Keep in mind as well that any form of exempt income that you deposit into your bank account may be seized by a private creditor. Although you may initiate legal proceedings to have the funds returned, there is no guarantee that the exempt funds will be returned in a timely manner. If you receive notification that a private creditor intends to file a lawsuit against you and your only form of income is exempt, you must notify the creditor’s attorney immediately that the funds in your bank account are exempt. If you do not, your exempt income may be seized and held pending a legal hearing.