Camino, CA asked in Bankruptcy and Collections for California

Q: Can a judgment against me garnish my SSDI (Disability), my old VW Bug that's worth less than $3,000, my furniture?

Was served on August 8, 2018. My husband was ill with terminal cancer & couldn't work. I live in Northern California, El Dorado County, I'm 56 years old & became disabled & couldn't work. Took a long time to get our disability & went through our savings & had to survive on credit cards. Husband died in 2015. Got on SSDI in 2016. Thought I'd have enough back pay from SSDI to pay off my $9,110.44 CitiBank credit card debt, but didn't get much in back pay, only enough to buy a 16 year old beat up VW needs major work. Don't work, have no income other than SSDI of $1,238.00 month. Rent an apartment for $750 a month. Own no property, have no money other than SSDI. Don't own anything of value, no furs, no jewelry, no art, etc. Can they take my car, my SSDI, my furniture, my two cats (alley cats, not pedigrees)? Do I have to file some sort of papers for exemptions from judgment like my SSDI, car, etc.? I have no money to pay an attorney. How can I get help?

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4 Lawyer Answers

Timothy Denison

  • Bankruptcy Lawyer
  • Louisville, KY

A: They cannot garnish your ssi and you probably have enough exemptions to protect the property you described. You can probably get a free consultation with a bankruptcy attorney who can give you some help

Cristina M. Lipan

  • Bankruptcy Lawyer
  • Brooklyn, NY

A: If you want to file bankruptcy, your assets would likely all be protected through the exemptions. However, it looks like $9000 of debt might not be worth paying an attorney $1500+ for. Your SSDI benefits are exempt from creditors, but you'll need to keep those funds separate from any other funds. Keep in mind that although SSDI funds are protected, I have seen the money taken by mistaken, but they do have to return it.

Peter Maurice Lively

  • Bankruptcy Lawyer
  • Culver City, CA
  • Licensed in California

A: SSDI is exempt from creditor claims under Federal Law - 38 U.S. Code Section 5301, with very few exceptions.

You are entitled to additional exemptions from creditor collection for your personal property under California Law - California Code of Civil Procedure Section 703 or 704.

Rest assured that your pet cats can't be taken away by your creditors.

When a judgment creditor executes on a judgment, through a writ of levy, the levying officer (Sheriff in California) generally provides forms to the judgment debtor for use in claiming property as exempt.

If you can't afford a lawyer, you might be able to obtain assistance from Public Counsel at or a similar organization in your area.

Harlene Miller

  • Bankruptcy Lawyer
  • Irvine, CA
  • Licensed in California

A: In addition to information provided by my colleagues which covers the most important concern you had regarding creditors accessing your SSI benefits, I recommend you speak with a bankruptcy attorney (many of us offer a half hour no charge consultation), to evaluate whether a bankruptcy is necessary.

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