Can Creditors Take my Disability or Social Security Checks?

The short answer is no. The longer answer is no, so long as you're prepared to stand up for yourself.  By federal law, both federal disability (SSDI) and social security benefits are "exempt" from creditors.  That means that even if a creditor has taken you to court and gotten a judgment, they can’t collect on that judgment using that money. 

The problem is that this law isn't always "self-executing." In other words, it doesn't always happen on its own.  If a creditor sends a garnishment order to your bank, the bank is supposed to check whether any federal benefits have been direct deposited into your account in the past two months. If they have, the bank should protect two months' worth of those payments for you.  But it doesn't have to protect more than two months' worth, and it doesn't have to protect other exempt amounts, like benefits paid by the state, child support, or alimony.  In those cases, if you don't say anything, that money is gone.

Instead, what you need to do is fight the garnishment, either on your own or with the help of a lawyer.  You do that by filing an answer to the garnishment with the court and mailing a copy to the creditor.  Then the court sets a hearing to make a decision about whether you get to keep the money.  This process can take a few weeks.  In the meantime, your account may be frozen, meaning you can't pay your bills or have any checks clear.  Still, it’s better than the alternative of losing the money forever.