Can Stocks Be Garnished?

by Donald Harder ; Updated July 27, 2017
Certain government agencies can garnish without a court order.

A garnishment occurs when a creditor legally freezes your financial accounts or takes your wages without your expressed permission. Stocks you own or money held inside your brokerage account may or may not be garnished, depending on what type of account you own. Credit laws differ from state to state, so you may need to consult with an attorney if your account has been garnished or if you are concerned that it may be.

Garnishment Basics

There are several reasons a creditor may garnish your wages and other assets. If you fail to make payments on debt you owe, your creditor can take you to court and ask for a judgment that allows them to garnish your assets to pay off the debt. Your assets can also be garnished if you are sued and a judgment is rendered against you. Finally, the government can garnish assets if you owe back taxes.

Non-Retirement Stocks

In most states, if you file for bankruptcy or have a judgment held against you, your creditors can garnish any stock held inside a non-retirement account. If your stocks are garnished, they will be sold on the open market in order to raise cash to pay your debts or judgments.

Retirement Accounts

Stocks held inside your 401k plan and Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) are protected from creditors by the The Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). ERISA is federal law, so it does not matter which state you live in. IRA and 401k plans are designed to help people save money for retirement, so the government has created special protections for money held inside these accounts.

Ways to Stop a Garnishment

According to Bankruptcylawfirms.com, you may be able to protect your stocks and other assets from being garnished when threatened. If you cannot pay off your debt or taxes in full, you can try and get a stay of collections, which can protect you from garnishment for up to 90 days. You also have the right to challenge your creditor in court. If you file for a challenge, they cannot garnish your wages until after your case is heard. There may be other ways to postpone or stop a garnishment in your state, so it is a good idea to consult with your attorney.

About the Author

Donald Harder has been writing financial-related articles since 2000 when he founded the firm Securities Research Services. He has worked as a speech writer for the U.S. Department of Justice and written white papers and studies for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Harder holds a Master of Arts in international affairs from George Washington University.

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