Breaking news! The president has made an announcement regarding federal student loan forgiveness.
Refi now and save money before rates rise again. Learn more

Can the Government Legally Take Money Out of Your Bank Account?

By Jacqueline DeMarco · March 15, 2022 · 6 minute read

We’re here to help! First and foremost, SoFi Learn strives to be a beneficial resource to you as you navigate your financial journey. Read more We develop content that covers a variety of financial topics. Sometimes, that content may include information about products, features, or services that SoFi does not provide. We aim to break down complicated concepts, loop you in on the latest trends, and keep you up-to-date on the stuff you can use to help get your money right. Read less

Can the Government Legally Take Money Out of Your Bank Account?

If you’re wondering whether the government can take money out of a person’s bank account if they are late on a debt or child support payment, the answer isn’t a simple “yes” or “no.” While the government may not be able to directly tap someone’s bank account in these situations, it can permit other parties to remove the funds. Keep reading for more insight into when and how this can happen.

Times When the Government Can Legally Take Money From Your Account

There are certain situations where the government can allow for money to be removed from a consumer’s bank account without their permission. Let’s look at a few ways this can happen.

Right of Offset

The “right of offset” is a term that refers to the fact that both banks and credit unions are allowed to take money from an account holder’s checking account, savings account, or certificate of deposit in order to pay off a debt on another account held at the same financial institution. While the government isn’t the one directly taking the money out of a bank account, they do legally allow this to happen.

For example, if you have a checking account and a student loan through a single bank and you fail to pay your student loan, the bank has the right to take money from your checking account to pay for missed loan payments. If the student loan was held through a different financial institution where the account holder doesn’t have a checking account open, then no action can be taken.

Financial institutions don’t have to give account holders advanced warning before exercising the right of offset. This is legally allowed as long as they follow all rules surrounding this practice.

Appeasing Both Sides

Taking funds from your account typically only happens in situations such as a student loan being about to go into default when the person holding the loan has money sitting in checking that could cover the debt. To know whether your funds could be tapped in this way, take a look at the fine print. Financial institutions like banks and credit unions usually have language surrounding this right of offset in the agreement that an account holder signs when they open a savings account, checking account, or a CD. All financial institutions will have their own version of how they handle and explain their right of offset process. Typically, credit unions have a bit more leeway when it comes to right of offset while banks need to stick to stricter standards. For instance, it’s usually illegal for a bank to seize money from an account to pay a credit card debt. However, credit unions may be able to do this.

Which Accounts Can Be Tapped

Here’s another reason why it’s really important to pay close attention to this language: Sometimes a bank or credit union has the ability to access the funds in any joint accounts that the main account holder shares with someone else (like a spouse). So if, say, you had a joint checking account at a bank with funds in it, and the bank also held your student loan which was close to default, both you and your spouse could wind up having your money withdrawn to go towards that overdue loan. Luckily, the right of offset isn’t eligible for tax-deferred retirement accounts (such as IRAs), so the money in those accounts can’t be touched.

Garnishment of Wages

Garnishment of wages is another example of when the government permits taking money from someone without their permission. This is a legal procedure that requires an employer withhold part of a person’s earnings in order to repay a debt such as child support. Wage garnishment requires a court order; however, Title III of the Consumer Credit Protection Act (CCPA) protects the person who needs to repay their debt. It says that an employer can’t discharge an employee for having their wages garnished for a single source of debt. However, employee’s with earnings subject to garnishment for a second or subsequent debts do not receive this protection.

Personal earnings such as wages, salaries, commissions, bonuses, and retirement income all qualify for wage garnishment, but tips usually don’t.

Does the Government Take Money From Accounts Often?

Having funds removed from a bank account without the account holder’s permission doesn’t happen all that often. When it does, the account holder can generally anticipate that this scenario is going to unfold, with the exception of it being a right of offset situation and they didn’t read their account holder agreement carefully. Garnishment of wages, however, requires a court mandate and won’t catch anyone off guard.

Let’s look at an example of how these situations can occur. If someone has debt and they don’t respond to a debt collector’s suit against them, the judge usually rules against the person who owes money. The judge may rule that the debt collector can garnish their wages, take a lien out on their property, or take money from their bank accounts.

Ready for a Better Banking Experience?

Open a SoFi Checking and Savings Account and start earning up to 2.00% APY on your cash!


Are Any Funds Exempt?

You may wonder if any kinds of funds are exempt from right of offset and wage garnishment. Let’s take a look at the guidelines in this situation. If the documents you signed when you opened a checking account, savings account, or CD included a right of offset agreement, then you’ve permitted the financial institution to take your money to pay a debt under the terms outlined in the agreement. The agreement is a legal contract, and you’re subject to it as long as you’re an account holder.

In some cases, you might not even learn that your bank or credit union has exercised its right of offset until after the fact. The agreement doesn’t, however, open the door for a financial institution to pull money from your account whenever it wants. For instance, federal law prohibits a federally chartered bank from using the right of offset to pay your overdue credit card bill. Again, it is used to repay a loan that is overdue at the same financial institution.

State laws might also limit a bank’s or credit union’s right of offset. This is the case in California, where a financial institution can’t push your balance below $1,000 when it pulls money from your account to cover a debt. Some states also prohibit draining government benefits like Social Security or unemployment in a right of offset action.
When thinking about wage garnishment, let’s take a look at what the law says. What kinds of funds can be garnished? Title III applies to all individuals who receive personal earnings and to their employers. Personal earnings include wages, salaries, commissions, bonuses, and income from a pension or retirement program, but does not ordinarily include tips.

Ways to Avoid Government Withdrawals

None of these withdrawals are ideal, and there are steps you can take to avoid them. When it comes to right of offset, it’s possible to avoid having this happening with a little communication. If a consumer fears they won’t be able to make a debt payment to their bank or credit union, they can connect with their financial institution to work out a repayment plan. Being upfront won’t make the situation worse and can lead to a potential solution. If someone loses their job, they can talk to their bank about how to manage their debt until they find a new job.

The best way to avoid wage garnishment is to make the required payments, such as child support, on time. Again, if someone is struggling to make a payment because of financial hardship, it’s best to communicate that upfront and to make a plan for recovery instead of falling behind on payments.

The Takeaway

So, can the government take money out of your bank account? The answer is yes – sort of. While the government may not be the one directly taking the money out of someone’s account, they can permit an employer or financial institution to do so.

If someone plans for debt and other required payments properly, chances are that money won’t ever have to be removed from their account without their permission. Even though funds can be unexpectedly withdrawn via right of offset and garnishment of wages, a person usually knows they have debt that’s past due and may not be totally surprised by this turn of events. When falling behind in payments, it’s often a good idea to talk directly with creditors and explain the situation. A new plan may be created that allows the person in debt to avoid these two scenarios we’ve just explored.

A New Way to Bank with SoFi

Want a fresh banking start? SoFi now offers checking and savings! You can earn more on your money with 2.00% APY, plus a $100 bonus when you direct deposit into a SoFi Checking and Savings account. Here’s another reason to bank with us: You don’t pay any account or overdraft fees.

FAQ

What is it called when the government takes money from your bank account?

Generally, when someone has money removed from their bank account this occurs through processes known as right of offset or garnishment of wages (which is money taken directly from a paycheck). These processes don’t involve the government directly taking money out of a bank account, but require the government’s approval for a financial institution or employer to do so.

Can the government take money from your checking account?

Through the right of offset, banks and credit unions are legally allowed to remove funds from a checking account. They can do this to pay a debt on another account that the consumer has with that same financial institution.

Can a government take your savings?

Through right of offset, the government allows banks and credit unions to access the savings of their account holders under certain circumstances. This is allowed when the consumer misses a debt payment owed to that same financial institution.


Photo credit: iStock/Douglas Rissing

SoFi® Checking and Savings is offered through SoFi Bank, N.A. ©2022 SoFi Bank, N.A. All rights reserved. Member FDIC. Equal Housing Lender.
SoFi members with direct deposit can earn up to 2.00% annual percentage yield (APY) interest on all account balances in their Checking and Savings accounts (including Vaults). Members without direct deposit will earn 1.00% APY on all account balances in Checking and Savings (including Vaults). Interest rates are variable and subject to change at any time. Rate of 2.00% APY is current as of 08/12/2022. Additional information can be found at http://www.sofi.com/legal/banking-rate-sheet
Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
SOBK0222003

All your finances.
All in one app.

SoFi QR code, Download now, scan this with your phone’s camera

All your finances.
All in one app.

App Store rating

SoFi iOS App, Download on the App Store
SoFi Android App, Get it on Google Play

TLS 1.2 Encrypted
Equal Housing Lender