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How Does Wage Garnishment Work?

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What is Wage Garnishment?

Wage garnishment occurs when a creditor gets a court order to garnish the wages of a debtor for repayment of a debt. Debts such as auto loans, credit cards, and home loans are commonly paid back through wage garnishment. In cases with large amounts of debt, the court will apply wage garnishment laws to force workers to repay some of the debt so that they don’t further increase what is already owed, and force themselves into bankruptcy.

The way it works, is that the court orders the defendant’s employer to take a portion from their employee’s paycheck, and send the garnishment to the court or to an intermediary agency that processes debt payments. Once ordered, the court will send a notice to the employer to begin garnishing the wages. Usually, it is up to the employer to calculate the amount to be paid, which is usually taken out weekly.

When Can a Creditor Garnish My Wages?

A court order is required for a creditor to garnish wages, except in the following circumstances:

This means every other debt, like credit card debt, requires a court order to garnish from your wages. It should be noted that any deductions for child support will only occur once it has been established that you owe child support and you are late on payments. If you fear you may owe child support, but a court order for child support has not been issued, then you do not yet owe child support and it will not be garnished from your wages.

How Does Wage Garnishment Work in a Child Support Setting?

Usually, a wage deduction is automatic with new child support orders. If an individual owes unpaid child support, the judge may order a specific wage garnishment to collect the debt.

For instance, if a defendant was ordered to pay child support but didn’t have a job, he or she may still owe those payments that were missed while being unemployed. If the defendant gets a job a few months later, a judge can then order garnishment for those months of missed payments.

Are There Limits as to the Amount Deducted?

Yes, federal law limits the total amount that can be deducted to 25% of the defendant’s earnings, but states can limit the amount further. So, if 15% is being deducted for federal student loans, and another wage garnishment order comes through, only 10% may be taken to satisfy that second debt. Overall, the garnishment will be limited so the employee will still have something to live on.

Can an Employer Fire Me Because of a Wage Garnishment?

It is possible for an employer to terminate you, but only if you accumulate more debt which results in a second wage garnishment. Title II of the Consumer Credit Protection Act prevents employees from being terminated for wage garnishments, but only if they don’t keep accumulating more debt.

Are There Consequences for Employers Who Don’t Comply with a Garnishment Order?

Employers who do not comply with wage garnishment orders may face court-ordered fines, and in serious cases, criminal charges and jail time. These consequences also apply for failure to pay correct amount of garnished wages, or deducting a higher amount of wages without the defendant’s knowledge or consent.

If an employer fires an employee because of a wage garnishment that is protected under Title II of the Consumer Credit Protection Act, they may be fined or face imprisonment for up to one year.

Should I Contact an Attorney?

If you are facing a wage garnishment order, you may wish to speak with an bankruptcy and finance lawyer with experience in wage garnishment to ensure you are protected from further difficulties, such as negative credit scores. Child support orders can also be tricky with wage garnishment, and a qualified attorney can help build your case and represent your best interests in court.

Photo of page author Sarah Tipton

, LegalMatch Legal Writer

Last Modified: 10-20-2017 12:34 PM PDT

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