Tens of millions of Americans rely on Social Security as a financial lifeline. A majority of benefit recipients rely on the program for at least half their monthly income. If you fall behind or default on certain civil judgments or federal loans, a portion of your benefits could be garnished by the federal government.
If you are in arrears on your federal income taxes, the IRS has the authority to subject your benefits to a 15% levy to go toward delinquent federal income taxes.
If you fail to pay off your student loans, the federal government can seek up to a 15% levy of your monthly Social Security benefits until the loan is paid off. In 2015, approximately 173,000 Social Security recipients had their benefits garnished to pay down defaulted student loan debt.
Social Security benefits can be garnished as well if you are delinquent on alimony payments or child support.
The best thing to do if you are in default is to speak directly with the agency in question to work out a payment plan. For example, the IRS is almost always willing to work out a payment plan with those who owe past-due taxes. There may be added fees and penalties for doing so, but it does mean your Social Security benefits will not be garnished.