Maryland law limits the amount of your earnings that a creditor can attach (garnish) from your wages for repayment of debts. The Maryland wage attachment laws (also called wage garnishment) protect the same amount of wages as the federal wage garnishment laws in some Maryland counties. In others the rules are more restrictive.However, for a few types of debts, creditors can take more.
Read on to learn about wage execution law in Maryland.
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 Maryland?
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 federal student loans.
Limits on Wage Garnishment in Maryland
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. The Maryland laws protect the same amount of income as the federal law, in some counties. In other Maryland counties, the amount that can be garnished is more restrictive than federal law. Here are the rules:
In Queen Anne’s, Kent, Worcester, and Caroline Counties, the law essentially mirrors federal law. Your creditors can garnish the lesser of:
- 25% of your disposable earnings for that week, or
- The amount by which your disposable earnings for the week exceed 30 times the federal minimum hourly wage.
If you live in a county other than Queen Anne's, Kent, Worcester, or Caroline, in accordance with Md. Code Ann., [Com. Law] § 15-601.1, your creditors can garnish the lesser of:
- 25% of your disposable earnings for that week, or
- the amount by which your disposable earnings for the week exceed $145.
“Disposable earnings” are those wages left after your employer has made deductions required by law.
A recent Maryland Appellate Court decision, however, ruled that this law is invalid if the $145 prong results in a garnishment amount that is greater than that which is allowed by federal law. So, if the amount by which your dispoable earnings exceed $145 is greater than the amount by which your disposable earnings exceed 30 times the federal minimum wage, then the judgment creditor can only garnish the lesser of the two amounts. Marshall v. Safeway, 437 Md. 542 (2014).
The court in Marshall v. Safeway noted that while the Maryland code got the law wrong, the District Court Form for wage garnishment got it right. That form tracked the federal wage garnishment limit for all counties; it didn't mention the $145 prong. Strangley, after the Marshall v. Safeway decision, the District Court Form was amended to include the $145 prong. See Request for Garnishment on Wages. Despite the wording of the form, if a judgment creditor tries to garnish your wages under the formula and the amount exceeds what is allowed under federal law, you may challenge the amount. (Whether you want to do so depends on your circumstances. If the difference is very small, and it won't make a difference to your budget, then it might not be worth the effort.)
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.)
Income withholding for support in Maryland follows the federal Consumer Credit Protection Act standards. 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. In Maryland, your wages can be attached in the same amount that applies to judgment creditors, in accordance with the Salary Lien provision of Maryland law. Check out the website of the Maryland Comptroller at http://www.comp.state.md.us for more information.
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 Maryland, your employer cannot fire you for a single garnishment in one calendar year.
For More Information on Maryland Wage Garnishment Laws
To find more information about wage attachments in Maryland, including the procedures that employers must follow in carrying out wage attachment orders, check out the website of the District Court of Maryland at www.courts.state.md.us.