Virginia law limits the amount that a creditor can garnish (take) from your wages for repayment of debts. The Virginia wage garnishment laws (sometimes called wage attachments) are even stricter than 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 Virginia.
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 Virginia?
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).
There are some 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 Virginia
There are limits to how much money a creditor can garnish from your paycheck. The purpose of the laws is to ensure that you have enough to pay for your living expenses.
Federal law places limits on wage garnishment amounts. However, Virginia imposes even stricter limits. In Virginia, the most that can be garnished from your wages are:
- 25% of your disposable earnings, or
- the amount by which your disposable earnings exceed 40 times the federal minimum hourly wage (currently $7.25/hour).
“Disposable earnings” are those wages left after your employer has made deductions required by law.
Example. You take home $700 per week after taxes. 25% of your disposable earnings is $175 and your disposable earnings less 40 times the federal minimum wage is $410. Your creditor can garnish up to the lesser amount, or $175. Thus, $525 of your take home pay is protected under the Virginia garnishment laws.
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.)
Virginia law protects the same amount as federal law for support orders. For reference, see Code of Virginia, § 34-29 (b1). You can review the Virginia laws at the Virginia General Assembly Legislative Information System website at http://leg1.state.va.us/000/src.htm.
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. Virginia law does not limit the amount of wages that can be withheld for unpaid local, state, or federal taxes. You can visit the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry’s Labor and Employment Law Division at www.doli.virginia.gov/laborlaw/laborlaw.html and click on Garnishment/Support FAQs to find information about wage withholding for unpaid taxes.
Total Amount of Garnishment
If you have more than one garnishment, the total amount that can be garnished is limited to 25% (or more if one of the garnishment orders is for support). 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.
Virginia law assigns a level of priority to different types of debt. Consumer transactions, such as a credit card debt, are considered “ordinary” debt. Orders for child support or alimony are given higher priority (“support”), and unpaid taxes are deemed “other” debts. Support orders are always given priority over ordinary debts, meaning your wages will be garnished to satisfy those debts first. If you have more than one ordinary garnishment order, the orders will be satisfied in the order in which they were received.
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, neither federal law nor Virginia law will protect you if you have more than one wage garnishment order.
For More Information on Virginia Wage Garnishment Laws
To find more information about wage garnishment limits in Virginia, including the procedures that employers must follow in carrying out wage garnishment orders, check out the website of the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry at www.doli.virginia.gov.
To learn more about how wage garnishments work, how to object to a wage garnishment, and more, see our Wage Garnishments & Attachments topic.