Debtor/Creditor Rights

If you receive a suit for a debt, I understand it is civil, but if a judgement is issued, can your Social Security check be attached for payment of the debt? If it is a credit card debt, does the judge ever find in favor of the original debt or will he/she go with the full amount with all the extra interest and late fees?

In the first place, if you are being sued by anyone other than the actual credit card company then there is a very good chance that you can win the lawsuit, or at least have it dismissed (which is not as good as winning, but it’s a lot better than losing). There are many companies who buy defaulted accounts from credit card banks, or car finance companies, or other lenders, and then try to collect. They often sue the wrong person, or sue someone whose debt has already been paid off, or discharged in bankruptcy, or settled in compromise, or is beyond the statute of limitations. In some cases if you can prove one or more of those facts then not only can you win the lawsuit, but you can turn around and file suit against them.  Even if you are being sued by the actual credit card bank or a local finance company there is still a good chance that you can compromise on the amount owed, rather than just agreeing to the amount that they are claiming.

View attorneys who handle Debtor/Creditor Rights (Collections Debtor , Bankruptcy Business Debtor, Bankruptcy Consumer Debtor) or go to www.naca.net (National Association of Consumer Advocates) and click on the link labeled “Find an Attorney.”  Then click of the folder labeled “Debt Collection,” and check any boxes which seem to apply to your situation. Then pull down the menu on the left to find attorneys in your state who match your selections. Many private attorneys charge little or nothing for dealing with debt collectors, but most will require a fee to defend an actual lawsuit.

If that doesn’t work, or if you believe that you might qualify for free legal services, you should contact West Tennessee Legal Services (WTLS) at 731-423-0616.

To answer specific questions:

  1. Social Security benefits can never be directly garnished for anything except child support and certain kinds of taxes. Social Security funds are protected from creditors even after you receive them as long as you can prove that it came from Social Security, and nothing else. If you keep your Social Security money in a bank account you must be careful to NEVER deposit anything else into that account. If a creditor tries to garnish that account you can stop them or get the money back. But if there is one cent of money from anything other than Social Security in that account then there is no protection for any of it, so don’t cash anyone else’s checks from them out of that bank account, and if you have any other source of income, or if your spouse, parent or child has any other source of income, open up a separate bank account for those other purposes. (Note: you only need to open a separate account if there is a danger of someone garnishing your account.)
  2. It is possible to persuade a judge to reduce the amount, but unless you have your own attorney I wouldn’t count on that happening. Most of the time you either win or lose. If you win you owe nothing. If you lose, they get a judgment for the full amount. If the case is dismissed, you win in the short run, but there is a very good chance that they will start bothering you again, or that they (or another debt buyer) will sue you again, or both.

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A special thanks to the Memphis Bar Association for its contributions and assistance to the Jackson-Madison County Bar Association in making available this legal information.  Portions of the foregoing content have been reprinted with the permission of the Memphis Bar Association.  www.memphisbar.org.