How to fight a creditor’s account levy

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A bank levy is a powerful tool that a creditor, with court approval, can use to remove funds from your bank account.

This can happen if you haven’t repaid debt as agreed. The creditor may levy funds up to the amount you owe, which can leave you with nothing to pay your rent and other bills. Your options are limited at this point, but there are ways to fight a creditor’s account levy.

What is a creditor’s account levy?

A bank account levy allows a creditor to legally take funds from your bank account. When a bank gets notification of this legal action, it will freeze your account and send the appropriate funds to your creditor. In turn, your creditor uses the funds to pay down the debt you owe.

How a levy works

A bank levy is usually the result of a months-long process, so understanding the timeline can help you potentially avoid the levy. It starts once you fall behind on payments. Depending on the contract you signed, your lender may consider your account delinquent after one or more missed payments. The lender will likely report those missed payments to the credit bureaus, which can damage your credit history.

Eventually, the creditor may try to recoup its money by filing a lawsuit and proving to the courts that you owe the debt. The creditor has to notify you at this point, which should signal that a levy could be in your future. If the creditor successfully gets a court judgment against you, it has stronger tools to collect that debt. One of these tools is a bank account levy.

Once the creditor receives the go-ahead for a bank account levy, it must provide the judgment to your bank. The bank will freeze your account and send the appropriate funds to the creditor. You won’t be able to access the money in your account until the creditor gets the money it’s due.

8 ways to fight an account levy

You might be able to prevent or limit levies to your account. To discuss options, contact an attorney who’s familiar with this type of law in your area. Below are some of the possible approaches you can try.

1. Prove that the creditor made an error

Creditors make mistakes all the time. If you don’t believe the debt is yours or if you think the amount is incorrect, ask the creditor to supply proof. And if you have already paid off the debt, find proof that supports your case. You can fight the levy if you don’t owe the money.

2. Negotiate with the creditor

The debt-collection process can be time-consuming and expensive, so lenders may prefer working with you over levying your bank account. An attorney or credit counselor can help facilitate these negotiations. Depending on the lender, your options may include a modified payment, a lower interest rate, or a hardship program. If the creditor plans to levy more funds, negotiations may prevent it. Plus, negotiating gives you some control over the situation.

3. Show that you’ve been a victim of identity theft

If someone else fraudulently applied for the debt in question, then you’ve been a victim of identity theft. You can fight the levy by proving that someone else received the funds.

4. Check the statute of limitations

Creditors have a certain time frame, called the statute of limitations, to legally collect debt from you. Check your state and local laws for the specific type of debt. If this time frame has passed, your creditor might not be allowed to collect money from your bank account.

5. File bankruptcy

You may be able to recoup some or all of the money if you immediately file for bankruptcy. This option varies from state to state. If you are able to “exempt” those funds that were levied from your bank, the creditor could be forced to return the money to you. A bankruptcy attorney in your area will be able to tell you whether some, none or all of the funds could be returned after you file bankruptcy papers.

6. Contest the lawsuit

Contesting the lawsuit could be impossible, because the creditor’s judgment could be too old to contest. However, if you were not properly served, you could have the judgment set aside. This can be done without an attorney, but it is a complicated process and will not ensure that the funds will be returned.

7. Stop using your bank account

If you can’t file for bankruptcy and the judgment can’t be overturned, then you will be unable to keep funds in your bank account. The creditor could continuously levy your bank account until the balance is paid in full. You could be relegated to using cashier’s checks and money orders to pay your bills.

8. Open a new account

While your levied account is frozen, you can open a new one. Be sure to move any automatic bill payments that you’ve set up to the new account so that you don’t miss any payments and fall deeper into debt.

Next steps

A drained bank account is the last thing you want to see. If a creditor has levied your funds, it’s important to understand that you might be able to recoup your money. If you think the creditor made an error or you’ve been a victim of identity theft, reach out to the lender and explain the situation. Otherwise, a lawyer or a credit counselor can help you with the next steps.

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Written by
Kim Porter
Contributing writer
Kim Porter is a personal finance expert who loves talking budgets, credit cards and student loans. In addition to serving as a contributing writer for Bankrate, Porter also writes for publications such as U.S. News & World Report, Credit Karma and Reviewed.com. When she's not writing or reading, you can usually find her planning a trip or training for her next race.
Edited by
Associate loans editor