Massachusetts Wage Garnishment Laws

Wage garnishment laws in Massachusetts limit how much judgment creditors can take from your paycheck.

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A wage garnishment (also called wage attachment or wage withholding) is when a creditor takes money from your paycheck before you receive it. The Massachusetts wage garnishment law protects more of your wages than the federal wage garnishment law. Under Massachusetts law, most creditors can only garnish up to 15% of your wages to repay to your debts. There are, however, some circumstances under which a creditor may be able to garnish more.

Read on to learn more about wage garnishment in Massachusetts.

What Is a Wage Garnishment?

A wage garnishment or wage attachment is an order from a court or government agency that is sent to your employer. Upon receipt of a wage garnishment order, your employer is required to withhold a certain amount of money from your paycheck and provide 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 Garnishments & Attachments topic.

When Can a Creditor Garnish Your Wages in Massachusetts?

Most creditors must first obtain a judgment in court stating that you owe them money before they can get a wage garnishment order. For example, if you are behind on credit card payments or owe a dentist’s bill, those creditors cannot garnish your wages (unless they sue you and get a judgment).

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 Massachusetts

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. However, Massachusetts imposes even stricter limits. In Massachusetts, the most that can be garnished from your wages is:

  • 15% of your gross wages (that is, before taxes or other deductions are taken out) or your disposable income less 50 times the greater of the federal ($7.25/hour) or the Massachusetts hourly minimum wage ($8.00/hour as of January 2012) per week.

These limits do not apply to garnishments for domestic support, meaning child support or alimony.

Example. You earn gross wages in the amount of $1,000 per week. 15% of your gross wages is $150 and your disposable earnings less 50 times the Massachusetts minimum wage of $8.00 (because Massachusetts’ minimum wage is currently higher than the federal minimum wage) is equal to $600. Your creditor can garnish up to $150 of your wages per week.

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.

Child Support

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.

Unpaid Taxes

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 15%. 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 second creditor must wait until the first garnishment ends (or until the first garnishment takes less than 15% of your gross wages).

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.

For More Information on Massachusetts Wage Garnishment Laws

To find more information about wage garnishment limits in Massachusetts, including the procedures that employers must follow in carrying out wage garnishment orders, check out the website of the Massachusetts Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development at www.mass.gov/lwd.

To learn more about how wage garnishments work, how to object to a wage garnishment, and more, see our Wage Garnishments & Attachments topic.

by: , Attorney

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