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When Judgment Proof Is Not Poor Enough

May 3, 2010

In some cases a debtor has no money, no job, and no assets. Lawyers commonly refer to this situation as being “judgment proof.” Any attempts to collect on a debt will be futile. As the saying goes, “You can’t get blood out of a turnip.”

While an entirely insolvent and judgment proof individual may avoid creditor collection, many people without money, jobs, or assets receive periodic federal benefits like Social Security. The federal law prohibits most creditors from garnishing federal benefits making the individual “legally” judgment proof.

Debt collectors will occasionally circumvent the federal prohibition by seizing the debtor’s bank account through a state court order. After a judge orders the seizure of a bank account to satisfy a judgment it is the debtor’s obligation to prove that the funds are federally protected. This generally requires hiring an attorney and holding a hearing in the state court. For more information, visit the Federal Trade Commission website for a free publication about bank seizure of federal benefits.

To close this legal loophole, the Obama administration has recently proposed rules to protect federal benefits from creditor garnishment. These proposed rules require banks to determine whether federal benefits have been directly deposited into a customer’s account within the past 60 days, and to determine the amount, before collecting funds pursuant to a court order. More than 80 percent of Social Security recipients receive their monthly benefits via direct deposit.

Many federal benefits are protected during bankruptcy. For a legally judgment proof debtor, a bankruptcy will end creditor harassment, prevent a bank account seizure, and discharge the debt for good. A bankruptcy can provide peace of mind.

If you receive federal benefits and have outstanding debts, consult with an experienced bankruptcy attorney. Your attorney can advise you on the best course of action to resolve the debt and protect your federal benefits.



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