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I received a summons to appear in court from a collection agency. The debt accrued during a marriage, before a divorce three years ago. The card was in my name, but my ex-husband was allowed to sign for purchases. I am receiving SSDI as my only income, but I do own the house I live in.
What options do I have, if any?

You don't have much by way of defense on the collection action itself, because you are liable for the charges on the card, even if you didn't make them personally.  However, SSDI is exempt under federal law.  "How to Protect Benefits from Creditors

Even though Social Security Disability benefits are safe from creditors' collection attempts, it does not mean that some collectors will not try to take the money. It is not uncommon for collection agencies to have banks freeze people's accounts while the bank determines whether the funds in the account are protected or not.

The best way to keep disability payments safe from most creditors' collection attempts is to open a separate account for those funds. That way the bank can clearly see that the only deposits that go into the account come from the SSA. Additionally, it is wise to keep the account in the benefit recipient's name only, to avoid creditors of other family members trying to garnish the funds.

People who receive disability benefits are often struggling to make ends meet. Their benefits are exempt from most creditor collection actions, but they may still run into problems with creditors trying to garnish their protected funds. If a creditor is going after your disability benefits, contact an experienced attorney who can advise you of your options and help you enforce your rights."


In other words, the creditor may go ahead and try to levy on proceeds of SSDI, so you need to be careful.  It is a particularly good idea not to mix SSDI funds with other funds.

So far as your house is concerned, that depends on the homestead law of your state.  If there is equity in the house, the creditor will lien it with the judgment.  But if the exemption rights in your state are great enough to exempt all of the equity, then the lien will be ineffectual.  Unfortunately, it will still be encumbering the title when you try to sell the house eventually.

If you are having creditor issues, you may want to consider bankruptcy.  However, it does sound from your question that this is an isolated instance, so the judgment may be more of a nuisance than a real threat.  Again depending on the state, a judgment will generally expire within 10-20 years.   You may want to get more concrete advice on dealing with the particular creditor.  (You didn't say how much money was involved; if there is no hope of collecting in the short run, the creditor would likely compromise and/or accept small payments).  

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Michael T. Hertz


I can answer most questions concerning bankruptcy, whether business or personal, including questions by debtors, creditors, persons interested in purchasing assets from bankruptcy estates, and the like. Also have expertise in tort law, French and Canadian law.


Practiced bankruptcy for 27 years in California and taught bankruptcy for three years in Maine. This included Chapters 7, 9, 11, 12 and 13 cases, representing debtors, creditors (secured and unsecured), bankruptcy trustees, creditors committees, and persons interested in purchasing assets from bankruptcies. Debtors included persons with virtually no money up to large corporations.

Inactive member of the Bar of the State of California. Nonpracticing member of the Bar of Massachusetts. Formerly member of the Maine Bar and conseil juridique in France. Certified by National Committee on Accreditation in Canada.

Georgetown Law Review; California Bankruptcy Journal; Maine Law Review; Dalhousie Law Journal; University of Toronto Law Journal.

Harvard Law School (J.D. 1970; cum laude) and Pomona College (B.A., 1967; cum laude)

Awards and Honors
Selected as a "Superlawyer" in 2005 and 2006 for Northern California.

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