Wage garnishment (also “wage attachment” or “wage withholding”) is when a creditor gets money from your paycheck before you receive it. The Ohio wage garnishment law protects the same amount of your wages as does federal law. Under Ohio law, most creditors can only garnish up to 25% of your wages to apply to your debts. Under some circumstances, a creditor may be able to take more.
Read on to learn more about wage garnishment in Ohio.
What Is a Wage Garnishment?
A wage garnishment or wage attachment is an order from a court or the government that is sent to your employer. If your employer receives a garnishment order, it is required by law to withhold a certain amount of money from your paycheck and 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 Garnishments & Attachments topic.
When Can a Creditor Garnish Your Wages in Ohio?
Most creditors must first sue you in court and obtain a judgment for money damages before they can garnish your wages. For example, if you get behind on your credit card payments or haven’t paid a hospital bill, those creditors cannot garnish your wages unless they have a judgment against you saying you owe them money.
There are some exceptions to this rule. Generally, these exceptions are limited to money you owe to the government or for domestic support obligations, such as child support. Your wages can be garnished without a court judgment for:
- unpaid income taxes
- court-ordered child support
- child support arrears, and
- student loans in default status.
Limits on Wage Garnishment in Ohio
There is a limit to how much money can be garnished from your paycheck. This purpose of this limit is to ensure that you have enough income left to pay your living expenses.
Federal law places limits on wage garnishment amounts and Ohio law protects the same amount. In Ohio, the most that can be garnished from your wages is either:
- 25% of your disposable earnings, or
- your disposable earnings less 30 times the current federal minimum wage ($7.25 as of January 2012).
Example. You are paid weekly and earn $1,000 a week after taxes are deducted. 25% of your disposable income is equal to $250. Your disposable earnings less 30 times the federal minimum wage is $782.50. Your employer must send your creditor the lesser amount, meaning your employer can garnish only $250 of your weekly pay.
Your disposable earnings are the wages left over after taxes and mandatory deductions, such as child support, are taken out. Deductions such as health and life insurance are not consider mandatory deductions and therefore the garnishment is taken from your wages before these types of deductions are taken.
Special Limits for Child Support Withholding, 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. Garnishments for support take priority over garnishments from consumer creditors, meaning child or spousal support will be paid before credit card and medical debt.
Child Support Withholding
Since 1988, all court orders for child support include an automatic income withholding order. The obligee, meaning the parent to whom you pay support, 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.)
Ohio uses the federal limits set forth under the Consumer Credit Protection Act (CCPA). 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.)
You may have more than one child support withholding order but not enough disposable income to pay your child support obligations in full. If this is the case, your total disposable income (from 50-65% as described above) will be split up amongst your child support orders, based upon how much is owed for each. While Ohio allows you to protect workers’ compensation and unemployment benefits from garnishment by consumer creditors, such as credit cards, all income is subject to garnishment for support, including unemployment, worker’s compensation, and lottery winnings.
Student Loans in Default
If you 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. Federal agencies or collection agencies under contract with the Department of Education can garnish 15% of your disposable income for loans owed to the U.S. Government. The Department of Education’s guaranty agencies may garnish up to 10% of your disposable earnings. Your student loan lenders are also subject to a limit based on the minimum wage, to help ensure you have enough income to support yourself. Student loan creditors may not take more than 30 times the federal 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. You can learn more from the Ohio Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Wage and Hour Administration at www.com.ohio.gov/laws.
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, and 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, but federal law won’t protect you if you have two or more wage garnishment orders.
Some states offer more protection for debtors. Ohio law prevents your employer from discharging you solely because of wage garnishments by a single creditor in a 12-month period. Ohio law also prevents your employer from discharging you because of a child support order garnishment.
For More Information on Ohio Wage Garnishment Laws
To find more information about wage garnishment limits in Ohio, including the procedures that employers must follow in carrying out wage garnishment orders, check out the website of the Ohio Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Wage and Hour Administration at www.com.ohio.gov/laws.