When a creditor obtains a judgment against you, he may attempt to seize your property, take a portion of your wages or garnish your bank accounts to recover the debt. State laws regarding the garnishment of joint bank accounts differ. In Pennsylvania, joint bank accounts may or may not be subject to garnishment depending on the relationship of the joint owners.
Pennsylvania Garnishment Law
If you default on a debt in Pennsylvania, the creditor can file a lawsuit against you and obtain a court order to collect from you. Pennsylvania doesn't allow most creditors to garnish your wages, but it does allow creditors to remove money from your bank account to satisfy a judgment. In most cases, the creditor can remove the full balance of your bank account up to the amount of the debt you owe.
Joint Bank Accounts
Even if you have a joint bank account with another individual, a creditor with a judgment can still remove money from the account. Because you have rights to the full amount contained in the account, the creditor can remove all funds in the account regardless of who deposited them. Pennsylvania law doesn't require a judgment creditor to notify you or the joint account holder before garnishing the account.
Though a judgment creditor can garnish most joint bank accounts in Pennsylvania, he can't garnish a bank account you and your spouse hold jointly unless he has a judgment against both of you. Pennsylvania considers spouses holding a joint account to be tenants by the entirety, which means that each spouse has full ownership of the account's contents. If a creditor has a judgment against only one of you, all contents of the joint account are exempt from garnishment because the creditor can't take property that belongs to the non-liable spouse.
Though Pennsylvania doesn't allow creditors to garnish wages to recover debt, the wages are no longer exempt from garnishment after you or another account holder deposits them into your account, regardless of which party earned them. However, creditors can't remove funds from your account that came from sources protected by the federal government, such as Social Security payments.