Can the IRS Garnish Social Security Benefits?

If you are behind on tax payments to the IRS, the organization may impose a levy on your assets or property to satisfy your tax debt. However, you may wonder, can the IRS garnish social security benefits through a levy? 

The short answer is yes — the IRS can place a levy on Social Security benefits. However, you will have some time to pay your tax debt before this garnishment occurs. You can also take a few steps to prevent the IRS from taking your Social Security check. 

Read on to learn more about social security garnishments. 

The Federal Payment Level Program

If you are wondering, “Can the IRS garnish Social Security benefits?” the answer is yes — through the Federal Payment Levy Program (FPLP). This program allows the IRS to collect tax payments through a continuous levy on specific federal payments — including some benefits from the Social Security Administration. This program also allows the IRS to levy: 

  • Federal employee retirement annuities
  • Federal employee travel advances
  • Medicare provider and supplier payments
  • Certain federal salaries
  • Military retirement benefits
  • Railroad Retirement Board benefits

When Will the IRS Garnish Social Security Benefits?

The IRS will not immediately garnish your Social Security check when you owe tax debts. 

First, you will receive several letters from the IRS informing you of your debt and the actions you can take. You can pay tax debts through your bank account, a credit card, a debit card, or an online payment platform like PayPal. You can also challenge what you owe or create a payment plan to pay your debt over time. 

If you do not respond to the IRS letters or pay your tax debt, you will eventually receive a CP 91 or CP 298 letter. These letters indicate the IRS’s intention to levy or garnish your Social Security benefits. Once you receive this letter, you will have 30 days to resolve the debt before the IRS will begin taking a portion of your Social Security benefits. 

How Much of Your Social Security Benefits Can the IRS Take? 

The FPLP allows the IRS to take up to 15% of a taxpayer’s Social Security benefits. However, if the IRS places a manual levy on your benefits, it can take all of your benefits above a minimum amount of living expenses. This minimum amount changes every year. 

How to Avoid IRS Social Security Garnishment

You should never ignore a letter from the IRS and hope the issue goes away on its own. Instead, if you have received a tax bill from the IRS, you should take every measure to repay the taxes you owe or settle the debt another way. Here are a few steps you can take to avoid an IRS Social Security garnishment:

Pay Your Full Tax Debt

Paying your tax debt in full can immediately resolve the issue and prevent further consequences. 

Begin an IRS Payment Plan

If you do not have the funds to pay your tax debt in full, you can create an installment agreement to pay the debt in smaller monthly payments. The IRS may allow you to pay your debt over 72 or 84 months, depending on the circumstances.

Submit an Offer in Compromise 

You can also consider applying for an Offer in Compromise to settle the tax debt for less than the total amount.

Request Hardship Status 

Finally, if you cannot make any tax debt payments due to financial hardship, you can request “Currently Not Collectible (CNC).” 

Now that you know the answer to “Can the IRS garnish Social Security Benefits?” contact our tax professionals at Levy & Associates at 800-TAX-LEVY for tailored tax advice. 

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