Alabama wage garnishment (or wage attachment) laws are similar to federal wage garnishment laws. For the most part, creditors with judgments can take only 25% of your wages. However, for a few types of debts, creditors can take more.
Read on to learn about wage garnishment law in Alabama.
What Is a Wage Garnishment?
A wage garnishment or wage attachment is an order from a court or a government agency that is sent to your employer. It requires your employer to withhold a certain amount of money from your paycheck and then send this money directly to your creditor.
Different garnishment rules apply to different types of debt -- and there are legal limits on how much of your paycheck can be garnished.
To learn more about how wage garnishments work, how to object to a wage garnishment, and more, see our Wage Garnishment and Attachment topic.
When Can a Creditor Garnish Your Wages in Alabama?
Most creditors cannot get a wage garnishment order until they have first obtained a court judgment stating that you owe the creditor money. For example, if you are behind on credit card payments or owe a doctor’s bill, those creditors cannot garnish your wages (unless they sue you and get a judgment).
However, there are a few exceptions to this rule. Your wages can be garnished without a court judgment for:
- unpaid income taxes
- court ordered child support
- child support arrears, and
- defaulted student loans.
Limits on Wage Garnishment in Alabama
There are limits to how much money can be garnished from your paycheck. The idea is that you should have enough left to pay for living expenses.
Federal law places limits on wage garnishment amounts. While states are free to impose stricter limits, Alabama has generally not done so. That means the federal law governs in Alabama. Under federal wage garnishment laws, creditors cannot take more than 25% of your disposable earnings, or any amount that exceeds 30 times minimum wage, whichever is the lesser amount. This is true in Alabama for any consumer debts. Debts that are not consumer debts cannot be garnished at more than 25% regardless of the amount above minimum wage.
“Disposable earnings” are those wages left after your employer has made deductions required by law.
Example. Lender has a judgment against Kevin for an unpaid consumer credit card that Kevin used for personal purposes. Kevin's disposable earnings are $500 per week. 30 times minimum wage is $217.50; the difference between $500 and $217.50 is $282.50, while 25% of $500 is $125. Because $125 is the lesser amount, Lender cannot garnish more than $125 per week from Kevin's pay.
Example. Beth owns a small business, and she took out a small business loan. She personally guaranteed the loan, which means the bank can collect it from her personally if it cannot collect from the business. Beth's business defaults on the loan, and the bank eventually obtains a judgment against Beth personally. Because the debt is not a consumer debt (it's a business loan), the bank cannot garnish more than 25% of Beth's disposable earnings.
Special Limits for Child Support, Student Loans, and Unpaid Taxes
If you owe child support, student loans, or taxes, the government or creditor can garnish your wages without getting a court judgment. The amount that can be garnished is different too.
Since 1988, all court orders for child support include an automatic income withholding order. The other parent can also get a wage garnishment order from the court if you get behind in child support payments. (To learn about income withholding orders and other ways child support can be collected, see Child Support Enforcement Obligations.)
Federal law limits what can be taken from your paycheck for this type of wage garnishment. Up to 50% of your disposable earnings may be garnished to pay child support if you are currently supporting a spouse or a child who isn't the subject of the order. If you aren't supporting a spouse or child, up to 60% of your earnings may be taken. An additional five percent may be garnished for support payments over 12 weeks in arrears. (Learn more about wage garnishment for child support arrears.)
Student Loans in Default
If you are in default on a federal student loan, the U.S. Department of Education or any entity collecting for this agency can garnish your wages without first getting a court judgment – this is called an administrative garnishment. The most that the Department of Education can garnish is 15% of your disposable income, but not more than 30 times the minimum wage. To learn more, see the articles in Student Loan Debt.
The federal government can garnish your wages if you owe back taxes, even without a court judgment. The amount it can garnish depends on how many dependents you have and your deduction rate.
States and local governments may also be able to garnish your wages to collect unpaid state and local taxes. Contact your state labor department to find out more. (You will find a link to your state labor department below.)
Total Amount of Garnishment
If you have more than one garnishment, the total amount that can be garnished is limited to 25%. For example, if the federal government is garnishing 15% of your income to repay defaulted student loans and your employer receives a second wage garnishment order, the employer can only take another 10% of your income to send to the second creditor.
Restrictions on Job Termination Due to Wage Garnishments
Complying with wage garnishment orders can be a hassle for your employer; some might be inclined to terminate your employment rather than comply with the order. State and federal law provides some protection for you in this situation.
According to federal law, your employer cannot discharge you if you have one wage garnishment. However, federal law won’t protect you if you have more than one wage garnishment order.
Some states offer more protection for debtors. In Alabama, your employer cannot fire you or refuse to hire you because you have a child support withholding order or because you have a withholding order to pay criminal restitution to someone else.
For More Information on Alabama Wage Garnishment Laws
To find more information about wage garnishment limits in Alabama, including the procedures that employers must follow in carrying out wage garnishment orders, check out the website of the State of Alabama Department of Labor at www.alalabor.state.al.us.