Can Unemployment Benefits Be Garnished?

Full Question:

Hi. i'm like many others struggling financially in this tough economy. i'm currently receiving unemployment. i don't own any property except my 1998 Honda Civic and i rent an apartment. I've been trying to save money to hire an attorney to file for bankruptcy. for roughly about a year now I haven't been able to pay my credit card and personal loan bills. One of the credit card company I owe money to hired an attorney and who filed a lien in my name. I received a letter confirming the court officially received and filed the lien. What does this lien mean and how can it affect me? Can they take the only car I own that i use to look for work? Can they try and garnish my unemployment check? When i file for bankruptcy can this lien be removed?
09/07/2011   |   Category: Bankruptcy   |   State: California   |   #25477

Answer:

Your car will likely be considered exempt property, as state laws allow a personal vehicle to be exempt up to a certain amount. If they get a judgment, it doesn't sound like you have assets they can attach. Unemployment benefits generally can only be garnished for child or spousal support, or money owed to the government. However, since California is a community property state, it is possible a spouse's wages may be garnished.

It is possible the debt may be discharged in bankruptcy. If you have no assets or income other than disability payments or exempt income , you may be judgment proof, meaning unable to collect payment from. Bankruptcy filing may be unproductive when a person is judgment proof. Prior to making a decision to file bankruptcy, each individual should first attempt to contact his or her creditors and determine whether it is possible to obtain their cooperation in working out a different payment schedule. Most people would be surprised to learn that creditors often are willing to make reasonable modifications to assist the debtor in repayment. Communication and honesty are the key words here. In exploring this option, the creditor should be honest and forthright with the creditor regarding one's financial situation. The automatic stay is one of the most valuable functions of a bankruptcy proceeding for the debtor seeking relief from creditors. The automatic stay immediately stops any lawsuit filed against you and virtually all actions against your property by a creditor, collection agency or government entity and provides an injunction against the continuance of any action by any creditor against the debtor or the debtor's property. After filing for bankruptcy, the automatic stay will prevent creditors from calling and harassing the debtor in any way. In fact, should a creditor continue to attempt to contact the debtor during the automatic stay, that creditor could be held liable for damages.

I suggest attempting to settle the debt before they obtain a court judgment. Once a judgment is obtained, the creditor will likely be unwilling to negotiate a settlement and may place liens on property, such as bank accounts, or garnish wages. In some cases, a debtor may be able to negotiate a settlement with the creditor, although this is more difficult once a suit has been filed. In some cases, the creditor may settle for a lesser amount if the debtor is insolvent, since a promise to pay something is better than collecting nothing. These types of agreements are called an accord and satisfaction. If it is possible, a debtor should get a release included in such an agreement so that the creditor may not pursue the full balance of the debt claimed.

You have probably heard of debt relief companies. There are also some companies, even credit card companies, that will work out a compromise settlement or reduced monthly payment. Family and friends are also sometimes options. There is really no good answer to your problem, a problem that many people face. Thus options include, but are not limited to, bankruptcy, debt relief company, compromise you do yourself, friends, family, loans. I suggest you resolve the charges before a lawsuit is filed to collect the money owed, which may further damage your credit history.

Another option to examine is Consumer Credit Counseling Service. CCC is a nationwide nonprofit organization that attempts to work with both the debtor and his or her creditors to devise a more manageable repayment plan. This service very often results in revised payment plans which are acceptable to both the debtor and the creditor, thereby eliminating the need to file bankruptcy.

If you need help negotiating with your creditors, consider contacting a nonprofit debt counseling organization. You can find a list of counseling agencies by location at the website of the U.S. Trustee, www.usdoj.gov/ust (select "Credit Counseling and Debtor Education.") The federal government has authorized the agencies on this list to provide counseling to debtors considering bankruptcy. However, don't pay anyone to "fix" your credit.

The following link allows you to search by area for financial counselors recommended by Dave Ramsey:

http://www.daveramsey.com/coaching/find-coach/

Please read the tips from the Better Business Bureau on selecting a credit counselor :

http://www.bbb.org/alerts/article.asp?ID=613

The following organization is a referral from the Better Business Bureau:

See also:

http://www.bcsalliance.com/debt1_california.html