Are creditors trying to reach your bank account for unpaid debts? Is a former spouse demanding you pay child support or alimony? If you're a veteran, you may be wondering whether they can reach your military benefits.
Veteran benefits are provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Some examples of VA benefits include disability compensation, pensions and military retirement. This income may be the only income you have to support yourself. Whether another person can reach your VA benefits depends on the reason for the money.
Garnishment of Bank Accounts
For most unpaid debts, a creditor can get a court order to take money from your bank account. This process is called garnishment. Garnishment allows a creditor to receive money as soon as it's placed in your account.
After a court issues the garnishment order, the creditor sends it to your bank. The bank is legally required to hold your money. This is to prevent you from removing all the money from the bank. The bank will hold your money until the court decides if the creditor is entitled to the money. So the question is whether a creditor can garnish your VA benefits after they're placed in the bank?
Creditor Claims for Regular Debts
Most people have debt. Bank loans are needed to buy expensive property such as houses and cars. Credit cards are used on a daily basis to buy food and clothing. There are many reasons why you may owe money to a creditor.
In general, VA benefits are exempt from creditor claims. This means that your VA benefits are safe from garnishment. The protection applies both before and after you receive your benefits. Your income from other sources can be garnished for your debts.
Child Support and Alimony
Support for a child or former spouse is treated completely different than other debts. Most VA benefits can be garnished to pay a child support or alimony court order. This rule recognizes the veteran's legal duty to help provide for his or her family.
One exception to this rule is VA disability compensation. In general, your disability compensation can't be garnished. However, there are a few circumstances in which this compensation is available for garnishment. If you waive a portion of your military retirement in order to receive disability compensation, that portion of income can be garnished for child support or alimony.
Unfreezing Your Bank Account
What do you do if the bank freezes your bank account even though the income in the account is exempt? You should contact the court that issued the garnishment order. Submit evidence that proves that the bank account contains exempt VA benefits. This may include bank statements, deposit slips and documents from the VA.
Once the court issues an order that states the income is exempt, give it to your bank. The bank will then unfreeze the account and allow you take money out again. You should also ask the bank to waive any fees that resulted from the freeze.
If you file for bankruptcy, your VA benefits will usually not be included in your estate. This means the benefits are protected. You'll still have to participate in the required credit counseling since veterans aren't an exception to this requirement.
Questions for Your Attorney
- What are the benefits of having an attorney help me receive any VA benefits?
- Will I receive notice if a garnishment order is entered by a court against me?
- How much of my VA benefits can be garnished? What if the VA benefits are my only source of income?
- If I may be facing financial problems, should I keep money from VA benefits in a separate bank account?