April 23, 2024
Can Stocks Be Garnished?

by Denis Kleinfeld

Yes, in most situations, stocks and brokerage accounts can be taken by a creditor with a money judgment. Still, there are laws that might shield some accounts from this. The process begins when the creditor gets a writ of garnishment. They give this to the brokerage, which must then freeze those accounts.

The account’s owner can then try to protect their money by filing a Claim of Exemption. After this, the creditor decides to either keep or remove the garnishment. If they choose to continue, a court hearing is set.

At this hearing, they will decide if the funds should be turned over or not. This decision results in a Final Judgment of Garnishment. If it’s in favor of the creditor, the funds get handed over.

Key Takeaways:

  • Stocks and brokerage accounts can be garnished by a creditor with a money judgment.
  • Exemptions may exist under federal or state law to protect certain accounts from garnishment.
  • The garnishment process involves filing a motion for a writ of garnishment and freezing the accounts.
  • Debtors have the option to file a Claim of Exemption to protect their accounts.
  • A Final Judgment of Garnishment may be entered, directing the brokerage account to turn over the funds to the creditor.

How garnishments affect stock ownership

When stocks are garnished, their ownership may change significantly. This change includes what happens to the person who owes money, referred to as the debtor.

First, the brokerage firm will lock the debtor’s stock accounts by law. This lock means the debtor can’t use or change their stock accounts. The firm does this to follow the court’s orders.

After locking the accounts, the brokerage will sell the stocks. Then, they send the money to the person or company that is owed the debt. This action is done to help pay back what the debtor owes.

Yet, selling the stocks can mean the debtor loses their investment. They might lose any profits or dividends they would’ve earned. This can hurt the debtor’s finances.

Here’s a simple way to see how stocks are affected:

Before Garnishment After Garnishment
Debtor owns stocks Stocks are frozen by the brokerage
Debtor can access and manage stocks Debtor is unable to access or make transactions with stocks
N/A Brokerage sells stocks and transfers proceeds to judgment creditor
N/A Debtor may experience financial consequences and loss of investment

This table shows how garnishments can severely limit a person’s stock control and benefits. It can heavily impact their finances.

Knowing how garnishments work with stocks is essential. This knowledge helps protect stocks from creditors. In the next parts, we’ll talk about ways to keep your stocks safe and assets protected in hard times.

Protecting stocks from creditors

You can safeguard your stocks from creditors with smart asset protection strategies. A great approach is to keep your stocks in accounts safe by law, whether federal or state. These accounts can prevent your stocks from being taken.

One well-known example is a retirement account. Often, retirement plans from work like 401(k)s can’t be touched by creditors. This keeps your stocks within those plans safe. Also, some states protect individual retirement accounts (IRAs) and inherited IRAs too.

In certain states, married couples may keep a brokerage account not meant for retirement together. This special way of owning it can shield your shared assets from one spouse’s debts.

It’s very important to know your state’s laws to protect your assets. A lawyer experienced in asset protection can guide you. They’ll make sure your stocks are well-protected from creditors.

Benefits of Protecting Stocks from Creditors:

  • By safeguarding your stocks, you keep your investments safe.
  • It helps maintain your financial health and ensures calm about the future.
  • Such measures cut down on the legal troubles you might face with creditors.

Expert Tip:

Asset protection law is intricate, and what works for you depends on your situation. Always talk to an attorney specializing in asset protection. They will tailor a plan to keep your stocks safe from creditors.

Being proactive in saving your stocks from creditors secures your finances. With the right legal help, you can create a strong protection plan for your stocks. This plan will fit your needs and enhance the safety of your investments.

Benefits of Protecting Stocks from Creditors
Preserve your investment portfolio
Protect your financial future
Minimize legal risks

Garnishment of brokerage accounts

Money owed can lead to a brokerage account being frozen by a creditor. They must first ask a court for permission. This court order tells the brokerage to stop all transactions on the account connected to the debt.

Next, the creditor issues a notice to the account holder about the freeze. The notice also mentions the right to protect some of the money in the account. This right is called a Claim of Exemption. It lets the account holder argue why certain money should not be taken to pay the debt.

If the account holder disagrees with what can be taken, a court time will be set. The court then listens to both sides and decides if the money is really safe. It uses laws and rules to make this decision. After that, if needed, the brokerage is told how to hand over the money to the creditor.

Key Points:

  • To take money from a brokerage account, a creditor must get legal permission first.
  • After the court order, the brokerage must stop all account activity. This applies only to the debtor’s account.
  • The account holder has the right to protect some of their money using a Claim of Exemption.
  • A court might decide if the frozen money is really protected. It looks at evidence and laws to decide.
  • Then, the court order tells the brokerage how to give the money to the creditor if it’s decided the creditor can take it.

Garnishment of brokerage accounts

Stock seizure laws

When it comes to seizing stocks in legal matters, knowing the laws is key. State statutes set these laws. They explain how creditors can take stocks to pay off debts.

Creditors have steps laid out for starting the seizure process. They file to get a writ of garnishment. Then, they serve this onto the stock-holding brokerage. The brokerage must freeze the debtor’s accounts upon receiving the writ.

It’s crucial to completely understand your local seizure laws. This helps follow the rules and prevent problems.

Exemptions are also covered in these laws. Exemptions are accounts or circumstances that are safe from seizure. Knowing your state’s laws helps see if your accounts are protected.

Seeking Legal Counsel

Stock seizure laws are complex and critical. This is why getting advice from a legal expert is smart. They can guide you, protecting your assets within the law.

Stock seizure laws

State Stock Seizure Laws
California California Code of Civil Procedure Section 695.040
New York New York Civil Practice Law and Rules (CPLR) Section 5232
Texas Texas Property Code Section 42.001
Florida Florida Statutes Title XL Execution and Judicial Sales Chapter 56 Prejudgment Garnishments 56.064
Illinois Illinois Compiled Statutes (ILCS) Chapter 735 Civil Procedure Section 2-1402

The table’s information is just to help you understand. For the latest laws, always check with a lawyer or the local legal codes.

Understanding asset protection strategies for stocks

It’s key to know how to keep your investments safe from creditors. Asset protection strategies for stocks are important. They help shield your stocks and money in brokerage accounts from being taken by creditors.

An effective way is to use accounts where the law prevents creditors from taking money. Example accounts include 401(k) retirement plans. Usually, creditor can’t take stocks in these accounts.

Also, how you own non-retirement accounts matters. In some states, if you’re married, you can own a brokerage account together. This can protect it from being taken if just one spouse has a debt.

It’s wise to talk to a lawyer about protecting your assets. They specialize in making sure your stocks are safe from creditors. They can help reduce risks and protect your money.

Benefits of Asset Protection Strategies

Using asset protection strategies for your stocks has perks:

  • Preservation of Wealth: Safeguarding your stocks keeps your wealth safe. It stops you from losing your entire investment.
  • Reduced Financial Risks: These strategies lower the chance of losing money to creditors. That means less stress for you.
  • Increased Negotiating Power: A good plan can help you talk with creditors more effectively. You might get better deals this way.
  • Continued Control: Protecting your stocks lets you keep making investment choices. You still get to run your portfolio your way.

Using asset protection makes your stocks safer. It wraps them in layers that make it hard for creditors to touch them.

The role of bonds in prejudgment garnishments

Creditors sometimes get a garnishment against brokerage accounts early. They need to put up a bond double the debt’s amount if they do. This bond protects the debtor from losses in case the creditor loses the lawsuit.

This bond acts as safety for the debtor. It means that if the garnishment was wrong, the debtor could be paid back. The court wants to stop unfair garnishments by making sure the creditor can cover any harm done by the garnishment.

The bond has two key jobs. It helps financially protect the debtor just in case the garnishment was a mistake. Also, it stops creditors from making unfair garnishment attempts by making sure they can handle the costs if they lose.

The bond needed might change based on where the case is and other factors. But it’s very important for keeping the debtor’s rights safe. And it helps keep the legal system fair and in balance.

Exemptions for retirement accounts and self-directed IRAs

Retirement accounts can get protection from garnishment. This is under federal or state laws. It keeps people’s savings safe for the future. Some exemptions are really important to know about:

Employer-Sponsored Plans:

Plans like 401(k) under the law ERISA are safe from creditors. Your retirement savings in these accounts can’t be taken to pay off debts. Make sure to know the rules of your plan to use this protection well.

Non-ERISA Retirement Accounts:

States may protect other retirement accounts like IRAs not covered by ERISA. The rules change depending on where you live. Check your state laws to see if your savings are safe.

Though these rules can safeguard retirement savings, every state has its own rules. Talking to a lawyer who knows about protecting assets is a smart move. They can steer you through the rules to make the most of these protections.

Protecting Your Retirement Accounts

In addition to exemptions, there are more ways to keep your retirement money safe:

  1. Proper Asset Allocation: Spread your investments out. This lowers your risk from market changes.
  2. Regular Review and Rebalancing: Always check and adjust your investments. This keeps them matching your goals and risk level, even as markets change.
  3. Professional Guidance: A financial pro can give expert advice. They help with picking investments, taxes, and planning for retirement based on your needs.

Knowing about these exemptions and using smart strategies can help protect your savings. This ensures a better future financially.

Retirement Account Type Exemptions
401(k) Plans (ERISA-governed) Generally exempt from garnishment
Non-ERISA Retirement Accounts (e.g., IRAs) Exemptions vary by state


In wrap-up, knowing stock garnishment laws is vital for investors. Creditors can take stocks if you owe them money. But, there are laws that might protect your stocks.

It’s important to know how garnishment works. You must file some paperwork and send it to your broker. Also, know that you can argue why they shouldn’t take your stocks. This is called filing a Claim of Exemption.

It’s wise to keep stocks in accounts that the law protects. Retirement accounts are often safe. If you’re worried, talking to a lawyer who knows about protecting assets can help a lot.

To keep your stocks safe, you need to be smart about it. Learn the laws, plan ahead, and get advice if needed. These steps can protect your investments and keep your money secure.


Can stocks be garnished?

Yes, stocks can be taken by a creditor with a legal money judgment. Yet, some accounts might be safe under state or federal law. This protection is called an exemption.

How do garnishments affect stock ownership?

Garnishment freezes the stocks in your account. This means you can’t use or sell them. If the court allows it, your stocks will be sold to pay your debt.

How can I protect my stocks from creditors?

One way to protect your stocks is by keeping them in special accounts, like retirement accounts. These are often safe from creditors by law. An attorney experienced in protecting assets can help you set up a plan.

What are the garnishment laws for brokerage accounts?

To take money from your brokerage account, a creditor must follow legal steps. They file a motion and deliver it to your brokerage. You can try to prove the money is exempt, at a possible court hearing.

What are the laws regarding the seizure of stocks?

States have different rules on taking your stocks. Typically, these laws show how creditors can take your stocks to pay debts. Check your state’s laws to see how it works where you live.

What are some asset protection strategies for stocks?

To protect your stocks, use special accounts like retirement accounts. Also, consider the laws on stock exemptions in your state for other accounts. This can help keep your stocks safe from creditors.

What is the role of bonds in prejudgment garnishments?

A bond is needed for an early garnishment, before the final decision in court. This bond is usually twice the debt’s amount. It discourages creditors from using this method.

Are retirement accounts and self-directed IRAs exempt from garnishment?

Certain retirement accounts are often safe from creditors. This includes most 401(k) plans and sometimes self-directed IRAs. Knowing these laws can help protect your retirement savings.

Can stocks be garnished? (Conclusion)

Stocks can be taken by creditors, but there are legal protections. It’s smart to learn about the process and use asset protection plans. An attorney skilled in this area can provide useful advice.