OPM and several other agencies have finalized rules that financial institutions must follow when they receive a garnishment order for an account holder for certain types of federal benefits that are made through direct deposit, including federal retirement annuities and Social Security Benefits.
Under the, a financial institution that receives a garnishment order must first determine if the United States or a state child support enforcement agency is the plaintiff that obtained the order. If so, the financial institution follows its customary procedures for handling the order. If not, the financial institution must review the account history for the prior two-month period to determine whether, during this “lookback period,” one or more exempt benefit payments were directly deposited to the account.
The financial institution must allow the account holder to have access to an amount equal to the lesser of the sum of exempt payments directly deposited to the account during the lookback period or the balance of the account on the date of the account review. In addition, the financial institution must notify the account holder that the financial institution has received a garnishment order. The notice must briefly explain what a garnishment is and must also include other information regarding the account holder’s rights.
There is no requirement to send a notice if the balance in the account is zero or negative on the date of account review. Financial institutions may choose to use a model notice contained in the rule in order to be deemed to be in compliance with the notice content requirements.
For an account containing a protected amount, the financial institution may not collect a garnishment fee from the protected amount. The financial institution may only charge a garnishment fee against funds in the account in excess of the protected amount and may not charge or collect a garnishment fee after the date of account review. Financial institutions that comply with the rule’s requirements are protected from liability.