August 20 2012
Government Garnishing Granny’s Retirement
Vicki E. Alger
Steve Rhodes writes in the Huffington Post that incidents of retirees’ Social Security benefits being garnished to repay delinquent student loans is on the rise. The Wall Street Journal’s Market Watch concurs:
According to government data, compiled by the Treasury Department at the request of SmartMoney.com, the federal government is withholding money from a rapidly growing number of Social Security recipients who have fallen behind on federal student loans. From January through August 6, the government reduced the size of roughly 115,000 retirees’ Social Security checks on those grounds. That’s nearly double the pace of the department’s enforcement in 2011; it’s up from around 60,000 cases in all of 2007 and just 6 cases in 2000.
The amount that the government withholds varies widely, though it runs up to 15 percent. Assuming the average monthly Social Security benefit for a retired worker of $1,234, that could mean a monthly haircut of almost $190. “This is going to catch an awful lot of people off guard and wreak havoc on their financial lives,” said Sheryl Garrett, a financial planner in Eureka Springs, Ark.
Many of these retirees aren’t even in hock for their own educations. Consumer advocates say that in the majority of the cases they’ve seen, the borrowers went into debt later in life to help defray education costs for their children or other dependents. … Other retirees took out federal loans when they returned to college in midlife, and a few are carrying debt from their own undergraduate or graduate-school years.
Keep this in mind the next time government promises to take care of us, be it “affordable” college educations or “guaranteed,” lock-box protected retirement, accessible health care, or nutritious food.