Can bill collectors garnish my unemployment checks?

By Tom Musbach

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Daily Answer is excerpted from the JustAnswer archives and features information provided from a Expert on JustAnswer.

Q: I am a 55-year-old woman living in Detroit, and I've been unemployed since 2007. I am being threatened by bill collectors, but I don't have anything. I have lost my car and my home, and I am living with different relatives. My only income is unemployment, which is about to run out. Can I file bankruptcy, or what can I do? They have threatened to send me to jail.

A: Please know that they CANNOT send you to jail for not paying your debt. That is, in fact, a violation of Fair Debt Collection practices for them to threaten such. The debts are civil in nature, and you cannot go to jail for civil liability.

They also cannot garnish your unemployment income. If you have no assets or other income, then you are essentially judgment-proof. They can file a civil case against you, but they have no way of collecting until you get a job or come into assets.

You should speak with a bankruptcy attorney about getting rid of the debts while you are unemployed. This should stop the harassment from bill collectors.

-- Answer from John Legal, civil attorney on JustAnswer.