New Federal Protection for Exempt Bank Funds
A new federal rule set to take effect on May 1, 2011, will increase protection for exempt funds in a garnished bank account. Federal law already protects many federal benefits, but it is currently the responsibility of the individual to claim these funds as exempt. Often the bank will freeze a bank account pursuant to an order and the individual must request a court hearing to release the funds.
Under this new Treasury Department rule, an electronic tag will be added to automatic deposits from government agencies. These funds include Social Security, Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”), Veteran’s Administration (“VA”) benefits, federal Railroad Retirement, federal Railroad Unemployment and Sickness benefits, federal Civil Service Retirement benefits and federal Employee Retirement System benefits. Banks are required to exempt all tagged deposits made during the previous two months and protect those deposits from garnishment. The consumer is no longer required to take any action to claim or identify exempt funds. The rule makes banks not liable to creditors for refusing to garnish the tagged funds, even if the money is co-mingled with other non-exempt money.
The National Consumer Law Center estimates that more than 1 million people each year have accounts garnished that contain exempt federal funds. Recipients are often sick or elderly and may be forced to forego needed food and medicine when an account is frozen.
This new rule applies to all federally chartered federal and state banks and credit unions. While there is no cap on the amount of protected funds, the automatic protection only applies to the previous two months. Exempt funds must be deposited electronically to receive the identifying tag. Deposits made by paper checks are still exempt, but the bank is under no obligation to identify these funds or protect them from garnishment. The rule does not apply to military retirement or state issued benefits.
There are many powerful consumer protection laws. If you have a judgment against you and are at risk of a bank or wage garnishment, consult with an experienced bankruptcy attorney and discover how the law can help. Your attorney can discuss your legal options to make the best of a bad situation.