Make a claim of exemption for a bank levy

A bank levy is when the sheriff's office takes money from your bank account to pay the judgment creditor (person the judge ordered you to pay) or debt collector. Some types of income are protected, or exempt, from a bank levy. If protected money was taken, you can get it back by filing a Claim of Exemption.

Important things to know

Some types of income are protected, or exempt, from a bank levy. For example, only 25% of your wages can be taken. Money from Social Security can't be taken at all. If protected money was taken, you must let the judgment creditor or debt collector know to get it back. This is called filing a Claim of Exemption.

If you act quickly, you may be able to get some or all of the money back. 

You have only 10 days from the date of the levy to file a claim of exemption (plus 5 days if the notice was sent by mail) with the sheriff. You must show that the funds taken came from a source of income that is exempt from collection. 

A bank levy is a one-time action, but the creditor or collector can return to court to request it again.

If you have a federal benefit (such as Social Security) direct deposit account, and the balance is less than two months of benefits, a bank is supposed to reject the levy except for levies for government-ordered child support or from the federal government. If a debt collector attempts a levy on one of these accounts, the bank is supposed to send you a notice telling you about the levy and stating that no money was taken.

How to make a Claim of Exemption

  • Fill out forms

    Fill out two forms:

    1.  Claim of Exemption (Enforcement of Judgment) (form EJ-160) 

    1. Financial Statement (form EJ-165)

      You only need this Financial Statement if your claim is based on needing the funds to provide for your family’s basic needs. 

    Make two copies of your completed forms. Keep one copy for yourself.  

  • File the Claim of Exemption with the levying officer

    Take or mail the original and one copy to the person identified as the levying officer. The levying officer is identified in the upper right-hand corner of the Notice of Levy. This is usually the sheriff, but in some cases the levying officer may be someone else.

    The sheriff keeps the original and sends a copy to the judgment creditor or debt collector. 

  • Wait to see if the claim is opposed

    The judgment creditor or debt collector has 10 days to respond.

    • If they don't respond
      Your claim is granted and the sheriff will return your funds.
    • If they do respond

      This means they oppose your claim. 


      You will have a hearing where a judge will decide the claim. You'll receive these in the mail:

      • Notice of Opposition to Claim of Exemption 
      • Notice of Hearing on Claim of Exemption 


      The date, time and place will be on the Notice of Hearing on Claim of Exemption.  

    You won't have access to the money that was levied while you wait for your claim to be decided, but if you win your claim, your money will be returned.

  • Reply to the opposition (if any)

    If the judgment creditor or debt collector opposed your Claim of Exemption, read the papers to find out why.

    You can reply to show the court clarifying facts, documents, or other evidence to support your Claim of Exemption

    A reply is optional, but if you choose to do it, you must file it with the court at least five court days before the hearing. 

    Learn how to write and file a reply

  • Check if your court uses tentative rulings

    In some courts, the court posts (usually on its website) how it intends to rule the day before the hearing. This is called a tentative ruling.

    In these courts, your hearing will be cancelled unless you call to say you still want the hearing. If your hearing is cancelled, the ruling the court posted will become final.  

    Before your hearing, contact your court clerk and ask if there’s a tentative ruling process.   

  • Go to the hearing

    If you have a hearing, it is your job to prove to the court that you qualify for an exemption.  To do this:

    • Tell the court how it will be impossible for you to pay for your family's basic needs if the money is taken from your paycheck.  The other side may say it is not true. 
    • Bring evidence that shows you can't afford to have the money taken.  This might be your paychecks, bank statements, and bills. 

    After hearing from both sides, the court will decide whether to grant your claim or not.  If you win, the court will order the sheriff to stop or reduce the garnishment and return the exempt money.

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