Can a Judgment Creditor Garnish Your Stimulus Check?
Several people in the last week have asked whether a judgment creditor can garnish their stimulus check. The latest COVID relief bill provides some people with up to $1,400 per person, plus an additional amount for having dependents.
Once deposited into your bank account, this money is not safe from garnishment. Prior COVID relief bills did provide protection from garnishments for civil debt, but this one does not.
A judgment creditor wanting to garnish your stimulus check would obtain a writ of garnishment from the Court and then serve it on the bank. Under Florida law, once the bank is served, the bank must freeze the account. The creditor will send to you by mail a notice of garnishment as well as a Claim of Exemption form.
Although the Claim of Exemption form does have an “Other” generic category, “COVID payments” or “stimulus check” is not a recognized exemption from garnishment under Florida state law or federal law. In fact, a creditor can garnish your stimulus check even if you have been adversely affected by the COVID crisis or even if you are unemployed as a result of COVID.
There’s an exception for certain kinds of debt. Your stimulus check can’t be garnished for child support payment or for federal or state tax debt.
However, there may be other ways to protect your stimulus money from garnishment once it is deposited into a bank account. In Florida for example, a married couple in which only one spouse is liable on a judgment can protect the stimulus funds in a joint tenants by entireties bank account. Not all joint accounts in Florida are necessarily tenants by entireties accounts. You will have to review teh account details to make sure it qualifies as a tenants by entireties account.
In addition, there are certain bank accounts in the United States subject to laws that prohibit garnishment, no matter where the judgment debtor lives.
About the Author
Gideon Alper specializes in asset protection planning for individuals and their families.
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