There are two types of attachment: an ongoing attachment of earnings, otherwise known as garnishment, and a one-time attachment of property. Social Security protects disability benefits from both types of attachment in most situations.
One-Time Attachment of Property
Attachment of property is most often used against banks that hold a debtor's funds. If an SSDI (Social Security disability insurance) or SSI (Supplemental Security Income) recipient establishes a bank account that contains only disability benefit proceeds, such as a lump-sum back payment of disability benefits, the funds are protected from being attached by creditors. The only exceptions are that the federal government can take money for unpaid taxes or defaulted student loan debt and state governments can attach bank accounts to force the payment of child support. While there are restrictions that apply to wage garnishment limiting the amount of monthly income that can be garnished, since a non-garnishing attachment is a one-time asset grab, is not subject to the same type of restrictions.
When disability benefits are co-mingled with other income and savings, a creditor is more likely to be successfully attaching a bank account for the payment of a debt, despite the law against creditors other than the government being able to attach disability benefits.
Attachment and Garnishment
Creditors can never garnish SSI payments, and only in limited circumstances can they garnish SSDI payments. For more information, see our article on whether debt collectors can garnish disability benefits.