Can IRS Garnish Social Security?

Ordinary, non-government creditors (credit cards, medical bills, home loans, car loans, etc.) cannot garnish your social security benefits to repay a debt.  This includes Social Security Income (SSI), Social Security Disability Income (SSDI), or other social security benefits.  Under the Social Security Act (SSA), all types of benefits provided under the SSA, including SSI and SSDI, are protected from a wage garnishment, a bank levy, or any other type of legal process or debt collection proceeding.

Can Student Loans or IRS Garnish Social Security Benefits?

The SSA provides that money payable under the SSA is not subject to execution or legal process, including a bank levy or a wage garnishment.  That means that an ordinary creditor cannot take your SSI or SSDI benefits that were deposited into your bank account by doing a social security garnishment.  An ordinary creditor also cannot garnish your future SSI payments.  There is an exception for certain government debts.  Government creditors, however, may be able to garnish SSI or SSDI under certain circumstances.

Government Creditors

If you owe a debt for certain government debts, then your benefits, including monthly SSI or SSDI benefits, can be taken through a bank levy, a wage garnishment, or through other legal process.   This most commonly happens with student loans and IRS back taxes.  It can also happen with past due child support or spousal support, although that is less common.

Student Loans

Student loans, specifically federally backed student loans, can garnish your wages to collect a past due student loan.  These days, student loans are handled almost exclusively through the federal government.  That means that if you have a past due student loan, the government most likely will garnish your wages to repay the student loan debt.  The government or its agents may also levy on your bank account and take your money in your account in repayment of your student loans.

IRS Back Taxes

If you owe back taxes to the IRS, then your social security benefits can be garnished to repay your back taxes.  Frequently, the IRS will just take a percentage of your SSI or SSDI before you even get to see it, and apply it to your back taxes that you owe the Federal government.  The IRS also can, and frequently does, levy on your bank account and take the money in your bank account, even if all of the money in your account consists of your social security benefit payments.

Filing Bankruptcy

If you owe back taxes, you may be able to file bankruptcy on your taxes and eliminate them, depending upon how old the taxes are.  If the taxes are discharged, then your SSI and SSDI benefits are protected.  But if the back taxes are not discharged, then your SSI and SSDI remains subject to levy and garnishment by the government or IRS.


If you owe student loan debt, you usually cannot file bankruptcy on the student loans.  Student loans are typically not discharged in bankruptcy.  After your bankruptcy, you will still owe the debt and if you have not paid the debt your social security benefits can be taken, by levy or garnishment, to satisfy the student loan debt.