How to Avoid Bank Account Garnishments
Bank Account Writ of Garnishment—a Legal Way to Empty Your Checking Account
One of the most alarming things that can happen is creditors getting bank account garnishments. If you have a county court judgment against you, you may be in for a nasty surprise: creditors can legally take every penny in your bank account at no notice to you (up to the amount you owe). This could mean that you get paid, you write a ton of checks to pay bills, and the next day the bank depletes your account. You might only find out about it when the checks start bouncing.
Bank Account Garnishments;When Creditors Will Take Every Penny
It doesn’t matter whether you have a joint or single account, or whether the money is wages, disability payments, or social security. A bank account garnishment will, in many cases, deplete your bank account of every penny, even if they aren’t legally entitled to it. Just Google “bank account garnishment” and you’ll see story after story of people who have lost their money; of course, you have the legal right to ask the court for the money back, but you’ll need the legal know-how or the assistance of a lawyer to do it. Can you really afford to hire a lawyer at $300 an hour to fight for your $1000-2000 back? Crooked creditors are betting you can’t.
Banks Will Garnish Your Account First and Ask Questions Later
Banks will err on the side of the creditor and take money from your account even if it’s protected money like head of household wages or disability benefits.
Because the law states banks must comply or they are liable for the amount of the claim. It would be too costly for banks to investigate which funds are in which accounts so they just take the money and you are expected to fight to get your money back.
In the meantime, you can’t pay your bills and you’re bouncing checks.
The answer is to protect the money in your bank account from garnishment. You can’t sit and do nothing: creditors will find out your bank account number. They will pull your credit report, contact your employer, your ex-landlord, your credit card companies, and ask them for copies of checks that you have written. That way, they will have your account number and all the creditor needs to do is send notice to the bank.
The bank will immediately freeze your account, empty it, and forward it to the local sheriff who will hold it (in most states for 2-4 weeks). You will have to fight—for a long time—to get it back.
How to Protect Yourself From Garnishment
There are several ways you can protect the money in your bank account.
- Do not use your bank account. The simplest way is if you owe creditors, do not have the money in there in the first place. Contact the social security office or your employer (whoever pays you) and ask them to mail you your check instead of direct depositing it. Cash your checks, and use money orders to pay your bills. Sure, it’s a hassle, but a lot less hassle than having to pay all those bounced check fees and having the district attorney haul you into court for bounced checks.
- Set up an exempt bank account. If you only earn exempt funds (social security, disability etc.), another way to stop garnishment is to set up a separate bank account and file a notice of exemption to the court. Instructions of how to do this vary from state, but you can get a general idea from the advice for Virginia, Florida, and New York. You may have to consult a law firm if you choose this option, as the procedure can be complex.
- Open a bank account in a different state. This will slow your creditors down (they will have to file with a court in a different state), but it won’t stop them completely. Do not write checks—only use a debit card (checks are too easily traceable).
- Open an offshore bank account. US Creditors will not be able to touch money in an offshore account (although you’ll still need to report it to the IRS). Offshore accounts are simple to open and use; they work just like a regular bank account although you’ll essentially bank online. Many reputable banks offer offshore accounts to US citizens such as Lloyds of London and Citibank of Canada. Lloyds offers a US$ account and Citibank (being both a US and Canadian company) makes transferring money easy between the two currencies.
It’s a misconception that only the rich people can open an offshore bank account. Essentially, anyone can open an offshore bank account. This type of bank account has been utilized widely by a lot of individuals as well as organizations all over the world to protect assets: it’s 100% legal and a lot better than finding all the money in your bank account gone!