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The Government Can Garnish Your Social Security Benefits If You Default on Student Loan Debt, Even If You Just Cosigned For The Loan

student loan debt social securityWASHINGTON, DC – The world of America’s senior citizens can be a scary place.  Aside from the physical hardships that come from aging, there are the unexpected financial hardships.  For example, finding out that Social Security may not be the bullet-proof income you thought it would be.

Russell Gloor is a National Social Security Advisor for the AMAC Foundation, established by the Association of Mature American Citizens in 2013 with a mission of supporting and educating America’s seniors.  According to Gloor, “Social Security benefits are off limits to nearly all creditors, but not the Federal  Government.  Uncle Sam can garnish Social Security benefits for certain debts you owe, including Federal student loan debt.  Benefits can be garnished for court-ordered child support or alimony, or for debts owed to the government.  And, unfortunately, Federal student loan debt is one of the things for which Uncle Sam can garnish Social Security benefits.  That hurts seniors who depend on Social Security as a major source of their retirement income.”

AMAC Action’s president, Bob Carlstrom, says, “For many seniors, their monthly Social Security check is both a critical part of, and indeed the safety net, of their income and financial situation.  It needs to be protected from garnishment by any party, including the federal government.  We will work towards correcting this.”

Research conducted by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau [CFPB] shows that seniors are the fastest growing segment of the population with outstanding student loan debt.  In fact, according to the CFPB, “In 2018, Americans over the age of 50 owed more than $260 billion in student debt, up from $36 billion in 2004, according to the Federal Reserve.  Nearly 40 percent of borrowers aged 65 and older are in default.”

Gloor says that about 45% of unmarried Social Security recipients and 21% of married couples rely on their benefits for at least 90% of their income. “Thus, garnishing Social Security hurts American seniors when they can least afford it.  Even though the government can garnish only 15% or your benefits and cannot leave you with less than $750 in monthly benefits, a 15% cut in benefits can be devastating.”

An analysis by Forbes Magazine shows that although they are not the largest segment of the population with student loan debt, it is estimated that the debt owed by Americans 60 years of age and older “has increased 71.5% over the last five years” and that the amount of debt they owe is more than $84 billion.

According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, “most student loan borrowers are young adults between the ages of 18 and 39, [but] consumers age 60 and older are the fastest growing age-segment of the student loan market.  This trend is not only the result of borrowers carrying student debt later into life, but also the growing number of parents and grandparents financing their children’s and grandchildren’s college education. Today, the majority of older student loan borrowers have loans that were used to finance their children’s education. They may have taken out these loans directly or cosigned on a loan with the student as the primary borrower.”

About AMAC  

The 2 million member Association of Mature American Citizens [AMAC] [] is a vibrant, vital senior advocacy organization that takes its marching orders from its members. The AMAC Foundation ( is the Association’s non-profit organization, dedicated to supporting and educating America’s Seniors. Together, we act and speak on the Association members’ behalf, protecting their interests and offering a practical insight on how to best solve the problems they face today. Live long and make a difference by joining us today at

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James Bonner
3 years ago

Any time you cosign a note for a loan, you should expect that you are the one that will need to repay the loan. Why do you think the lender wanted a cosigner in the first place?

3 years ago

The garnishments are appropriate. Too often now, there is an attitude that student debt should be quickly forgiven. This should not be the case. Any student debt unpaid results in other taxpayers having to make up the burden, and they had no choice in the decision to undertake the debt. Carefully consider the circumstances before co-signing a student loan or taking one out. Most likely, if a co-signer is needed the student is taking on too much debt for their education and should seek less costly, yet equally good options to provide for their education.

3 years ago

So, the taxpayer is expected to fund more free stuff; this time older deadbeats from the hippie generation? Don’t preach about Socialism and free stuff/”entitlements” any longer.

Daniel Thomas
3 years ago

Do not borrow, what you cannot repay you irresponsible Dead Beats!

Mark Norton
3 years ago

Don’t co-sign if you’re not prepared to pay for the loan. That’s what co-signing means. I shouldn’t have to pay for the loan because the person that co-signed doesn’t want to make the payments they agreed to make. I worked 40 to 50 hours a week when I went to school full-time. If we’re going to forgive student loans, I.e. all their costs for going to school, then I need to be paid the same amount for my school cost and the interest on that for forty years.

Carl Vickers
3 years ago

Exempting student loans from Social Security benefit garnishments would only further jeopardize an already stretched SS solvency and potentially reduce the future benefits of the responsible recipients who payed off their loans. That is totally unfair and will send the message to future generations that if they are fiscally responsible to pay their debts, they will be penalized by having to absorb the debts of those less responsible.
It would be another step towards a socialist nanny State, of overtaxing the successful to benefit the unsuccessful. When the consequences of our choices are removed, the natural effect is to ignore the rules. Under those circumstances why would anyone choose to pay off their loans?

Word of Truth
3 years ago

A loan is a loan. The loan should be paid off from the income received from the wonderful well-paying job the college degree provided. Loans should not be taken out to pay for studies in fields that don’t pay what the degree costs. Education expenses are an investment. You have consider the payback. All this federal loan money getting dumped on universities is the main driver in the outlandish and obscene rise in what they charge.

Steve King
3 years ago

My daughter was attending a state university in the late nineties. The first year she had a number of grants and only needed a small amount of assistance, which my wife and I paid monthly. At the beginning of the second year some of the grants went away and we contributed more money each month. Before the spring semester of the second year, we received a large envelope from my daughter with a note that we didn’t need to read, just needed to sign the paperwork and mail it back to her. She was trying to get a loan for three times the amount of the cost of the second semester and she was also expecting us to continue sending her monthly money.
Forcing the issue, we found that the first year, she had only completed one class. The second year first semester had the same result. Needless to say, we did not sign the loan paperwork. Yes, she was mad and her mother was even madder at my wife and me. That ended her hanging out on campus experience and save us a lot of money.
Keep in mind that if the student is 18 or older, they do not have to share anything with you. Just because you are paying or have co-signed on a loan does not give you the right to any information. In our case, someone unknowingly provided information and saved us a lot of money. Knowing my daughter, we would have been left the entire loan re-payment.

Louise M.’Pena
3 years ago

I am one that my SS was garnished. I took out the loans on around 1996-1998. When I consolidated the loans interest rate was 8%. Many many times I’ve tried to lower the interest rate, BUT have always been told it can’t be done- OR said once I get back on track it will be done. At 8% the loan has increased because my affordable payments can’t keep up with
The interest rate charged. My 19,000 loan is now up to $69,000. What I have to look forward to is dying owing on this loan. The department of education in now accepting payments of $19. A month yet still allowing interest on loan to go 8%. What is wrong with this? Even when I was able to make $250 payments it didn’t cover the interest and balance has increased.

3 years ago

We happen to be one of the 60 plus generations that have a huge student loan debt that has accumulated over the years with no end in sight. We have no recourse but to pay till we’re dead.

Roger Mansfield
3 years ago
Reply to  Jerry

If you don’t pay YOUR debt? Who is supposed to?

Michael J. Duggar
3 years ago

Student loans are non-dischargeable in Bankruptcy because they are based on “need” and not “creditworthiness.” That surprisingly, makes perfect sense. However, when parents are asked to co-sign on the loan, that changes the equation to a “creditworthiness” component which is patently unfair. While I respect my Congressman Posey’s position that we all sign agreements that sometimes aren’t in our best interest, I find the necessity of student loan co-borrowers somewhat troubling.

As a Bankruptcy practitioner and AMAC member, I’ve filed a case some years ago to stop the State of Michigan from wrongly garnishing my client’s Social Security. The State of Michigan was so in error that the Judge sanctioned the State $42,000 in damages. If you know someone who is suffering from a garnishment, Bankruptcy (while not the preferred choice), can potentially stop the garnishment, even Federal including the IRS.

In summary, there are remedies and while they may not be the PREFERRED choice, it is something to consider. Maybe the next article can be about how the credit card associated with Military PX privileges can allegedly garnish Social Security. I’ve had clients receive correspondence from AAFES (Military Star Rewards Card) claiming they can garnish Social Security. That is equally alarming.

Jim Bonner
3 years ago

When you cosign a loan, it means that YOU are responsible if the original debtor defaults. In most cases, the need for a cosigner indicates the loan was made on the strength of the cosigner, not the borrower. Of course the cosigner has to pay it if the signer defaults.

Diana Talmadge
3 years ago

What part of “loan” do these people not understand? I am sure they pay their auto loans.

Melanie Clark
3 years ago
Reply to  Diana Talmadge

Agreed. When you take out a loan you promise to repay it.

3 years ago
Reply to  Diana Talmadge

Sometimes, though, life happens. My husband became disabled and had to go on SSI because he didn’t have enough quarters for collecting Social Security. He is on Supplemental Security income instead. It is Social Security’s fund for disabled individuals who don’t have enough work quarters. For me, I had to come home and be a full time mom because our son and daughter were both born with developmental disabilities. The only caregiver is me. The state really did not and does not now help enough with the cost of care. My check would have been going to their care instead of going to anything else. And then my husband became disabled so that I really had to come home. So, you can’t lump people that way. Each situation and their circumstances can be different. Compassionate conservatism is needed in these kinds of situations.

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