Q: I got a letter saying my Social Security benefit was going to be reduced because of an old student loan. What is this about?
A: There are a number of circumstances when the Federal government can garnish Social Security benefits including:
- To enforce child support or alimony obligations under 42 USC 659.
- To enforce a valid garnishment for court-ordered victim restitution under 18 USC 3613.
- To collect unpaid federal taxes under 26 USC 6334(c).
- To have a portion of your check withheld to satisfy a current year federal income tax liability under 26 USC 3402 (P).
- Other federal agencies will offset benefits to collect money from benefits to pay a non-tax debt owed to that agency according to the Debt Collection Act of 1996 (Public Law 104-134).
The Debt Collection Act of 1996 provides for collection of delinquent non-tax debts owed to the Federal government. Under that legislation, examples of debts owed to other agencies are student loans owed to the Department of Education, home loans owed to Veteran’s Administration, and food stamp overpayments owed to Food and Nutrition Service. Since you said that the withholding is due to student loans, it probably relates to this.
If so, the letter you received would have come from the Department of the Treasury’s Financial Management Service (FMS), not the Social Security Administration. FMS can authorize reduction of Social Security benefits to recover delinquent non-tax debts owed to the Federal government.
(Reminder: this is general information. For specific information about you, call the national SSA toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213 / TTY 1-800-325-0778, or contact your local SSA office.)
The Department of the Treasury’s Financial Management Service (FMS) letter explains the debt recovery, specifies what government agency is owed the funds, how much, and a phone number for that agency.
The Social Security Administration has no control over the FMS ordered reduction, cannot change the reduction amount, and has no information about the debt other than what is on the Department of the Treasury letter.
If you have questions about the debt, contact the agency named on the Treasury Department letter at the telephone number provided.