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May 12, 2011

Protection From Garnishment for Social Security, Veterans Benefits

A new treasury rule, effective May 1, 2011, will provide more protection to receipients of federal benefits from garnishment of their bank accounts.

ManGrabbingPiggyBank_iStock.jpgGarnishment and Federal Benefits: The Basics

If a creditor gets a judgment against you, it has various tools to collect on that judgment. One tool allows the creditor to garnish (grab the money in) your bank account. But there are limits to garnishment. Judgment creditors cannot grab funds that come from certain sources, including some types of federal benefits such as Social Security, Supplemental Security Income, veterans benefits, and a few others.

Although these types of funds cannot be seized by creditors, in practice, when banks got a garnishment order in the past, they often froze all funds in the account (up to the amount of the debt), without regard to whether the funds were protected from garnishment. This means the bank accountholder would not be able to access those funds for weeks or months. The accountholder could object to the garnishment of the protected funds to prevent the bank from turning them over to the judgment creditor. But many people were unable to complete the paperwork and procedure to do so, and so lost funds that never should have been seized.

The New Rule: The Onus is on the Bank

The new rule puts the onus on the banks. Banks receiving garnishment orders must now determine if the bank account has protected federal benefits that have been electronically deposited into the account within the previous two months. If the bank discovers that there are protected funds, it cannot include those funds in the account freeze.

What This Means for Accountholders

Federal benefits received and deposited in a bank account via paper check are not protected by this new rule. Nor are funds received (even if received electronically) more than two months prior to the garnishment order. However, the regular state procedures for challenging a garnishment order will still be available for these types of funds. Federal benefit recipients currently receiving paper checks should consider switching to electronic deposit of their benefits.

For More Information

If you receive federal benefits and think you might need protection from bank garnishments, be sure to read about the nitty, gritty details of this new rule (this post just covers the very basics). For the short term, you can get an excellent summary of the new rule, as well as recommendations for how beneficiaries of federal benefits can best protect themselves, from the National Consumer Law Center at

By Guest Blogger Kathleen Michon

April 18, 2011

New Mexico Debt Collection Rule Is a Victory for Debtors

FinalNoticeIStock.jpgNew Mexico's Attorney General will begin enforcing a new Rule which requires debt collectors doing business in New Mexico to (1) make a good faith effort to determine if collection of a debt is time-barred (meaning it is too late to sue for recovery of the debt in court) and (2) if it is time-barred, to so inform the debtor. The collector must also tell the debtor that signing a new agreement to pay the debt, or making a partial payment might "revive" the debt, resetting the time period that the collector has to sue on the debt. (To learn more about time-barred debts, and what that means for collection of the debt, read Nolo's article Time-Barred Debts: When Collectors Cannot Sue You for Unpaid Debts.)

The Attorney General implemented the rule in order to end "an industry-wide [debt collection] practice that tends to or does mislead or deceive" consumers by failing to provide important information to consumers - that is, that a debt is so old that it is legally unenforceable in court. The new Rule is a victory for consumers. As New Mexico Attorney General King said: "This Rule is intended to ensure that debt collectors provide important information to consumers so that they can make informed decisions when they are confronted with a demand to pay an old unenforceable debt."

The law went into effect on December 15, 2010, but the Attorney General delayed enforcement until March 15, 2011 in order to give debt collectors time to revamp their practices. You can read the Attorney General's announcement here. The announcement contains a link to the text of the new rule.

By: Guest Blogger Kathleen Michon 

March 4, 2009

Cars in Chapter 7 Bankruptcy -- What Happens?

People often ask me about how Chapter 7 bankruptcy will affect their ability to keep their car. If you aren't making payments on a car, then it's just a matter of using whatever exemptions are available to keep it, just like any other asset. However, if you are making payments on your car, it's not so simple. As part of your bankruptcy you must decide how you want handle the note. You do this by filing an official form called the Statement of Intention (SOI) with your other bankruptcy papers as well as mailing a separate copy of the SOI to your lender. I go into more detail on this in a new article on Nolo's website: What Happens to Your Car in Chapter 7 Bankruptcy?
September 15, 2008

Who Will Benefit From Housing Agency Takeover?

A couple of months before the government takeover of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, Congress passed a new law providing financial backing for these quasi-governmental agencies, straight out of the U.S. Treasury. The fact that they have now been taken over means very little, except that a new crop of mis-managers will take over operations at somewhat lower compensation rates.

According to a plethora of financial market pundits, the takeover will "calm financial markets" and hasten the day when real estate values can be determined with some amount of certainty. As long as prices keep falling, sales will not keep up with inventory. Undoubtedly true. However, perhaps the time has come when America really is bankrupt in deed, if not in name, and it will just take a few respected leaders (possibly a presidential candidate or two) to call out the naked emperor. In the meantime, we can expect to be treated to a series of "light at the end of the tunnel" statements by the "powers that be", all designed to calm the savage consumer beast and keep the big money in America instead of some other, more financially stable, country.

Although the real estate fiasco can be hard to understand, a brilliant article in the Sunday, September 14th San Francisco Chronicle pulls it together about as well as anybody can. The most important point in the article is that the new housing recovery law will likely only benefit the most irresponsible of the impacted homeowners -- this because of the abililty of the lenders to pick and choose which loans they will cash out at 90% of the home's current appraised value. While this approach may help the bottom lines of the various banks that got caught shorthanded, it does little for our sense of fairness. Or, to put it another way, it makes the old saw "let no good deed go unpunished" a little less funny in the case of the millions of homeowners who have struggled to stay current on their mortgages but who will now be deprived of relief because their loans aren't bad enough to justify the lender taking a hit.

June 1, 2008

Bankruptcy Defuses Tax Bomb Threat Reported By New York Times

An article titled "Lose Homes, Pay More Tax" by Jonathan Glater, published in the May 30, 2008 edition of the New York Times, accurately described a little-known oddity of our tax laws (described in the article as a "tax bomb"). If a lender forgives or writes off debt (same thing), the amount forgiven can be treated as taxable income by the IRS. So, for instance, if you have a second home (not your primary residence) and you lose it to foreclosure or even a short sale, you will be taxed on the shortfall to the lender. Fortunately, loans made to acquire or improve primary residences are excluded from this rule for tax years 2007 through 2009.

What the Times article left out -- strangely, seeing as so many bankruptcy lawyers were quoted -- is that there are two exceptions to the tax bomb. If you are insolvent at the time of the debt forgiveness, you will also be forgiven your tax liability. And, here's the kicker: If you file bankruptcy prior to the debt forgiveness (read: foreclosure) the bankruptcy will not only hold off the foreclosure (at least temporarily), but also discharge the debt, so there's nothing to forgive and no income to tax.

Insolvency can be difficult to prove after the fact, but there is no doubt about the bankruptcy exception. Although many people shy away from bankruptcy, it can be a marvelous remedy when dealing with the possibility of foreclosure. It's beyond my comprehension why that point wasn't made.

February 1, 2008

When Are Collectors Prohibited from Suing for Unpaid Debts?


If you have old, unpaid debts, you may be safe from a lawsuit to collect the debt, because a creditor or debt collector has a limited number of years to sue you for the debt. To get a better understanding of time limits for debt collection, check out this newly published article in the Nolopedia, "Time-Barred Debts: When Collectors Cannot Sue You For Unpaid Debts".

And if you want further information on debt collection & credit, you might also be interested in my previous post, "When Credit Bureaus Report Debts Discharged in Bankruptcy: It Should Be a Crime".