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Q&A: Answering your stimulus check questions

The answer in the State of Georgia is yes, but only in some situations - and not in all of them.

ATLANTA — Washington continues to send stimulus checks to nearly 160 million Americans - delivering the checks either electronically into people’s bank accounts, or delivering them by snail-mail.

And one of the most frequent questions that people continue to ask is whether creditors are allowed to confiscate those checks to settle old debts, leaving the check recipient with nothing.

The answer in the State of Georgia is yes, but only in some situations - and not in all of them.

As it is, debt collectors are coming for your stimulus checks if you have delinquent debts.

11Alive answered that question from viewers, and several other stimulus check questions. Here are the answers below.

Q. I have old credit card debt, plus old, unpaid medical bills. Will the creditors seize my stimulus check?

A. Maybe, IF the creditors already have a court order placing a claim or freeze on your bank account.

“Yes, debt collectors (in Georgia) can, in fact - if they have a court order - try to tap into the money through the bank account,” said Professor Usha Rackliffe, with the Goizueta Business School at Emory University in Atlanta. 

A stimulus check “can be garnished by any private debt collector” seeking payment from a debtor in Georgia.

When Congress passed the latest COVID relief stimulus plan, the legislation made a distinction between private debt - money owed to credit card companies, hospitals, school tuition lenders, for example - and government debt, such as back taxes and delinquent child support payments.

Professor Rackliffe said the previous stimulus checks, issued this past December, were protected from any and all garnishment by both private and government creditors.

But Rackliffe said that under the new federal law governing the current stimulus payments, private debt collectors can garnish a debtor’s stimulus check, but government debt collectors cannot.

Which is what this viewer asked:

Q. Will my stimulus be garnished for child support or back taxes?

A. No, stimulus checks will not be garnished for government debts.

Q. I just filed my 2020 taxes and owe taxes. Will that be taken out of my stimulus?

A. No, stimulus checks will not be garnished for any taxes owed.

Q. How do I get stimulus money from renters I had to evict?

A. You can’t, unless you already have a court order in place at their bank.

“You have to have a court order” in Georgia, Rackliffe said, “an order from the court is what a bank is going to look for, because you can’t just go to the bank and get money that’s from somebody else’s account. Clearly, that can’t happen.”

The garnishment laws on stimulus checks are complex. Some states protect stimulus checks from garnishment. Georgia allows private lenders to use the courts to seize stimulus checks from people with delinquent debt.

“It depends on how much you owe, how long you’ve owed it, and what the court order says you’ve got to pay,” Rackliffe explained. “The issue of garnishment only comes about if you are behind. So if you (owe money) but are current (with your payments), and you are in good standing, then that is not a problem.”

Generally, Professor Rackliffe said, a bank needs to see a court order before letting a private creditor into a debtor’s bank account to seize their stimulus check.