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Social Security benefits can be garnished by court order

In this Feb. 11, 2005 file photo, trays

In this Feb. 11, 2005 file photo, trays of printed social security checks wait to be mailed from the U.S. Treasury's Financial Management services facility in Philadelphia. Photo Credit: AP

You recently wrote that Social Security wouldn’t compensate a woman for her ex-husband’s failure to pay child support. But doesn’t Social Security garnish benefits sometimes?

Yes. Social Security retirement, disability and survivor benefits can be withheld to enforce court-ordered child support payments and alimony, and repay federal student loans and delinquent taxes.

But Supplemental Security Income (SSI) cannot be garnished under any circumstances. SSI, sometimes confused with Social Security, is a separate government program making payments to low-income elderly, blind and other disabled Americans.

My earlier column addressed a child-support case that was closed after being settled with a lump-sum payment. But in an open child-support case, in response to a judge’s withholding order, the Social Security Administration can indeed garnish part of a delinquent parent’s current and continuing monthly benefit payments.

The agency responds to active orders issued by a state court, says Jane Zanca, a Social Security Administration spokeswoman. The amount garnished for child support is calculated after all other deductions — like Medicare premiums and IRS tax levies — have been taken. If the delinquent parent is currently supporting a spouse and another child, the amount withheld for child support can’t exceed 50 percent of his or her net benefit. If the delinquent parent is single, the amount withheld can’t exceed 60 percent of his or her net benefit. Those percentages can rise to 55 percent and 65 percent respectively if the original support order is more than 12 weeks in arrears, says Zanca. The agency doesn’t address complaints about the amount withheld. Anyone who believes it’s excessive must return to the court to get it reduced.

THE BOTTOM LINE Some of your Social Security benefit can be withheld to pay your outstanding child support, alimony, and student loan and tax obligations.



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