After a court enters a money judgment against you, the judgment creditor can proceed to collect. Many experienced creditors like to start the post-judgment collection process by attacking your bank account. In this way the creditor can attempt to seize a lump sum payment before settling in to collect from your wages.
A bank account garnishment begins with the court directing the bank to freeze your bank account and turn over funds to the sheriff. Once your account is frozen, any outstanding check will be refused payment (unless the amount of the judgment is less than the amount on deposit at your bank, then the bank can only partially freeze your account). A garnished bank account can cause many problems for the debtor, especially when executed just after payday.
Bank account garnishments are almost always a surprise. The judgment creditor or collecting agent (often the sheriff of your county) must notify you and the bank, but typically the bank is first notified to freeze your account, then you are notified by regular mail. This prevents any possibility that you can withdraw funds before the garnishment takes your money.
There are defenses to a bank garnishment. You may claim that all or a part of the deposited funds are exempt under state or federal law. The notice of garnishment is often accompanied by a list of possible exemptions and notice procedures. For instance, Social Security payments are generally exempt from garnishment. However, once a Social Security payment is deposited into your account and co-mingled with other funds, the question becomes “what part of the account balance is Social Security (and exempt) and what part is not?” A hearing is required to determine this answer and the burden is on you to prove that the funds in the account are exempt from creditor collection.
Filing bankruptcy stops the commencement or continuation of a bank garnishment. Bankruptcy stops collection actions and will discharge most judgments. If there is a judgment against you and you fear a future bank account garnishment, speak with an experienced attorney and discuss how the federal bankruptcy laws can stop a judgment creditor cold.