If a judgment is taken against you in court, the winner of the case (the judgment creditor) will try to collect from you. The law gives the judgment creditor the right to collect in several ways. Often there’s nothing you can do about it. By the time there is a judgment, the court has already decided that you owe the money.

However, the law will not allow a judgment creditor to take everything you own. Some property or assets are exempt from collection efforts. If the judgment creditor goes after these, he will not be able to take them. Among the property that is exempt from collection are most kinds of government benefits, including Social Security, SSI, and Unemployment and Workers Compensation. Even though money from these benefits may be in your bank account, they are still exempt if you can prove where they came from. If your benefits are direct-deposited, your monthly bank statements will show the direct deposit and source of the funds.

To be sure the bank account will be totally exempt; it should not have money in it from any other source. For example, if you get a gift of money, spend it on a needed item and do not deposit it in your direct deposit account.

When the judgment creditor asks a bank to freeze all accounts in your name, the bank will do just that. If your name is on someone else’s account, that account will also be frozen. It may be difficult to get the account released. It may cause considerable trouble for the other person who is the real owner of the account while the funds are frozen. But even if the account is released quickly, there may be a bank service charge imposed against the account.

You should think twice about having your name on any account that really isn’t your money. If you expect to need access to someone else’s account, ask the bank if you can sign a signature card to have access, but not have your name listed as a co-owner of the account. If that can not be done, the account owner can give you a power-of-attorney to make deposits and withdrawals from the account.

Another possible alternative to avoid attempted bank attachments is to notify the bank that your funds are exempt and ask the bank to identify your account as having exempt funds in case an attachment order comes in.

A final option is to notify the attorney for the judgment creditor that your income is exempt from attachment. You can file a Notice of Exempt Funds with the court and the attorney at the time a complaint for money judgment is filed against you. You can send a Notice of Exempt Funds to the attorney for the judgment creditor at any point.

Remember to keep a copy of whatever you mail, and note the date, time, and person you talked to for any business you conduct by telephone.


This article is meant to give you general information and not to give you specific legal advice.
Prepared by Community Legal Aid Services, Inc. Updated February 2012. CE-02-F008-CLAS