Bank blocks your access to the account because a debt collector has obtained a court order against you

SHANGHAI CHINA - NEW NORK USA- You head to an ATM to withdraw $100 from your bank account. But you’re unable to get any of your money. You later find out your bank account has been frozen.

In many cases, a bank blocks your access to the account because a debt collector has obtained a court order against you. The court order requires the bank to freeze your account so the debt collector can recover money that’ll help cover your past-due debt.

If you find yourself in a situation like this—or you want to keep it from ever happening—read on so you can minimize or avoid the financial fallout of a frozen bank account.

How a Debt Collector Gets Access to Your Bank Account

A debt collector gains access to your bank account through a legal process called garnishment.

If one of your debts goes unpaid, a creditor—or a debt collector that it hires—may obtain a court order to freeze your bank account and pull out money to cover the debt. The court order itself is known as a garnishment. The court order normally comes after a debt collector sues you and then wins a judgment against you.

Debts that may be affected include credit card bills, auto loan payments, personal loan payments, medical bills and mortgage payments.

In addition to garnishing a bank account, a debt collector may be able to garnish your wages. This happens when a debt collector secures a court order requiring your employer to subtract wages from your paycheck to cover an unpaid debt.

Four states—North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Texas—don’t allow wage garnishment for consumer debt. If you live in one of those states, a debt collector can still essentially garnish your wages by garnishing your bank account, though. Once your wages are deposited into your bank account, they aren’t considered wages anymore. Therefore, a debt collector may be able to tap into your account and take your money—including money from your paycheck.

Can a Debt Collector Take Money From Your Account Without Permission?

Usually, a debt collector must obtain a court order before accessing your bank account. However, certain federal agencies, including the IRS, may be able to access your bank account without permission from a court.

How Much Money Can a Debt Collector Take From Your Account?

The amount of money a debt collector can take from your account depends on the state where you live.

In New York, for example, $2,664 to $3,600 in a consumer’s bank account is automatically protected from a garnishment for debt collection. In California, that amount was $1,788 as of September 2020; the sum is adjusted each year for inflation. Meanwhile, Delaware bans garnishment of bank accounts.