Though creditors can obtain a court order to garnish a debtor’s wages, there are limitations on how much can be garnished, and the type of income that is subject to garnishment.
Under federal law, wage garnishment can be no more than 25% of a debtor’s disposable income (after-tax earnings), or the federal minimum wage multiplied by 30. Whichever is smaller of the two is the limit that can be garnished. However, in child support liens, up to 50% of the debtor’s earnings may be subject to wage garnishment.
Income that Creditors Cannot Garnish
While creditors can garnish most forms of income with or without a court order, depending on the type of debt, creditors cannot garnish from the following:
Creditors can garnish from protected sources of income if the garnishment is for overdue income taxes or child support:
- Pension and retirement;
- Veteran's Administration (VA) benefits; and
- Alimony/Spousal support.
It's important to note that it does not include:
- Severance pay; and
- Investment-related income.
Creditor Violations of Debtor Rights
If a creditor is found in violation of any debtor rights, the reinstatement of the debtor’s garnished wages may be ordered. In serious cases, the creditor may face criminal prosecution with the possibility of imprisonment and/or fines.
How Can I Stop My Wages from Being Garnished?
If you have been ordered to have your wages garnished, it may be difficult to avoid this type of judgment, but you may object to it. Depending on the type of debt the creditor is trying to collect, the following are types of objections:
- Pre-Hearing Options: Before your case goes to court, you can try to negotiate with the creditor for a payment plan. If you can agree to a plan, the creditor can put a stop to the garnishment of wages.
- Hearing Options: If you are facing a financial hardship, you may file an objection to the wage garnishment, and claim exemption. You must be able to prove that you are unable to cover your basic living costs if your income was lowered. If you are successful, the garnishment will be limited, and the amount taken will be reduced. Usually, exemptions are already in place for income received from social security, alimony, and retirement.
Filing for Bankruptcy as a Last Resort
Bankruptcy may be an option for people with substantial debt. Once you file, the court will issue a stay that will stop most wage garnishments. An exception to this is child support in most cases.
If your bankruptcy is successful, your debt may be released. Some bankruptcies require debtors to repay old debt, so make sure to speak with an attorney before attempting to file for any type of bankruptcy.
Do I Need a Lawyer?
If you are facing a situation where your wages may be garnished, it is a good idea to speak with an employment attorney as soon as possible. An experienced attorney can help protect your rights, and counsel you on your obligations and best options.