Can My Wife’s Bank Account Be Garnished for My Debt?

The creditor can obtain a judgment against you or file a debt collection lawsuit if you have outstanding debt.  The creditor can then try to garnish your wages or your account to try and retrieve payment for the outstanding debt.  If the creditor gets a court order, they can even garnish your social security account to get funds to repay the debt, provided they follow the rules. The government can also get funds from the account to pay various debts, including child support and alimony.  But can the creditor garnish your spouse’s account for your debt?    Well, it depends. 

The Ability to Garnish Your Wife’s Account Depends on Various Factors 

A creditor can garnish your spouse’s account to recover payments for a debt. However, the ability to garnish the account depends on various factors.  They include the nature of your debt, type of account of your spouse, and state in which you reside with your spouse.  Generally, if your wife has an account held solely in their name, a creditor cannot garnish the account to get funds to repay your debt. However, if you and your wife hold funds in a joint account, a credit can obtain a judgment against you and also access the joint account for funds to repay your debt.    The ability of a creditor to access the joint account depends on whether you and your spouse reside in a community property state such as Alaska or in a common-law state.

Community Property States

A community property state means you and your share all the properties and debts that you get during the marriage.   Thus, all the properties you acquire belong to both of you, even if the property isn’t registered jointly. This excludes properties you get as inheritance or other gifts you receive.  Besides properties, a community property state takes it that you share in your debts. You share the debt liability whether you participated in taking the loan or other bills or not.  Thus, the person you owe can get a judgment to garnish your joint accounts to recover payments for a debt. If a creditor has a judgment against you and your wife has a separate bank account, the creditor can garnish her account to recover money to pay for your debt.  Such states include New Mexico, Alaska, Louisiana, Arizona, Nevada, Washington, Wisconsin, Puerto Rico, and Texas.  However, not all community property states allow your creditors to garnish your spouse’s account. It depends on whether the state considers you part of the debts taken by your husband.  Other states allow you and your spouse to share property but not individual debts. For instance, although Texas is a community property state, creditors cannot touch your account to recover money owed by your spouse. Your creditor cannot target your wife’s account if you don’t share it.  However, creditors can garnish income that comes from some form of property. For instance, the creditor may not touch properties you get from inheritance or gifts. The same applies to properties you acquired before marriage. However, they can come after the income you generate from such properties. 

Common-Law States

Common law states include the states not under community property law.  If you and your spouse live in a common-law state, the debt of each partner remains their responsibility. The only exception is:
  • If the two of you took the debt jointly
  • The debt benefited both of you
If you have a joint account, but the debt isn’t owned by both of you in its entirety, various things can happen:
  • In some states, a creditor cannot touch your joint account unless you used the debt to acquire joint property or was used to benefit the whole family
  • In other common law states, a creditor can garnish the joint account even if your spouse wasn’t liable for the debt. However, they can only garnish the account up to half
Thus, spouses that separate their accounts and finances aren’t liable for the other partner’s debts. A creditor can only garnish the account of your shared property and debts.    Click here to learn more about debts and the various recovery methods by creditors in case of non-payment.