Skip to main content

Social Security and Administrative Wage Garnishments

Social Security and Administrative Wage Garnishments

What is administrative wage garnishment (AWG)? It is the ability of a federal agency to order an employer to withhold a percentage of a debtor’s wages from his or her paycheck and give that money to the federal agency to satisfy a debt without first obtaining a court order.

A federal agency may utilize administrative wage garnishment, even if there are state laws against AWG. However, wages cannot be garnished if the individual has not been in his or her current job for at least twelve months and was involuntarily separated from the previous job.

The garnishment cannot start without your knowledge. Written notice must be sent to you at the address last known to the federal agency at least thirty days before the AWG begins. The notice will state the amount of debt and its nature, the intention of the agency to begin garnishment, and a brief explanation of your rights.

Prior to the AWG’s commencement, you will be allowed to enter into a repayment agreement that is acceptable to the federal agency or pay off the debt in fall. Alternatively, you can request a hearing to challenge the agency’s decision.

Even if wage garnishment begins, you can ask the federal agency at any time to review your case and reassess whether the amount being withheld should be reduced because of a material change in your financial circumstances. And just because your wages are being garnished does not give your employer the right to take any disciplinary action against you, or fire you for that reason.

At this point, many people wonder if their Social Security payments can be garnished, and the answer depends on who is trying to get your money. If you have not paid on your medical bills, credit cards, or personal loans, these creditors cannot come after you for repayment by garnishing your Social Security benefits. Please note: although Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) payments can be garnished just like Social Security retirement benefits can, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments are protected from garnishment.

Social Security payments can be garnished, however, if you are delinquent on paying any of the following: child support; victim restitution; alimony; federal student loans; federal taxes; or other federal debts.

There are limits to how much of your wages can be garnished. The rules for the amounts of child support and alimony that can be withheld are determined by state laws, but your wages can be garnished up to 50% if you are supporting another child or spouse under another order and up to 60% if you are only supporting one child/spouse; if you are more than twelve weeks in arrears, an additional 5% can be garnished if the state in which you live follows the Consumer Credit Protection Act (CCPA). For unpaid federal income taxes and federal student loans, your wages can be garnished up to 15%.