Iowa law limits the amount that a creditor can garnish (take) from your wages for repayment of debts. To determine how much of your paycheck can be garnished, Iowa follows the wage garnishment limits found in federal wage garnishment laws (also called wage attachments). But the Iowa wage garnishment laws are even stricter than federal wage garnishment laws because they place a cap on the total amount certain creditors are allowed to garnish during a single calendar year. For the most part, subject to Iowa’s annual limits, creditors with judgments can take only 25% of your net wages after required deductions. However, for a few types of debts, creditors can take more.
Read on to learn about wage garnishment law in Iowa.
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 Iowa?
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 Iowa
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. When it comes to what percentage of your paycheck may be garnished, Iowa follows federal law. Here are the rules:
For any given workweek, creditors are allowed to garnish the lesser of:
- 25% of your disposable earnings, or
- the amount by which your weekly disposable earnings exceed 30 times the federal hourly minimum wage.
“Disposable earnings” are those wages left after your employer has made deductions required by law.
However, Iowa wage garnishment laws place a cap on the aggregate amount each judgment creditor (no matter how many judgments it has) can garnish during a single calendar year. Here are the rules:
If your income is:
- below $12,000 per year: up to $250 may be garnished
- between $12,000 and $15,999 per year: up to $400 may be garnished
- between $16,000 and $23,999 per year: up to $800 may be garnished
- between $24,000 and $34,999 per year: up to $1,500 may be garnished
- between $35,000 and $49,999 per year: up to $2,000 may be garnished, or
- $50,000 or more per year: no more than 10% of your wages may be garnished.
Example. Let’s assume you earn $600 per week and your net wages (disposable earnings) are $500 after all required deductions. 30 times the current federal hourly minimum wage ($7.25) is $217.50. This means that your wages can be garnished up to $125 ($500 times 25%) or $282.50 ($500 minus $217.50) per week, whichever is less. As a result, your wages may be garnished up to $125 per week. But since your annual income would fall between $24,000 and $34,999, each judgment creditor can only garnish $1,500 per year and must stop its garnishment when the limit is reached.
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.)
Iowa follows the federal law when it comes to 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.)
Further, Iowa’s maximum annual garnishment limits do not apply to domestic support obligations such as alimony or child support.
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.
In Iowa, your employer is not allowed to discharge you because of your wage garnishment.
For More Information on Iowa Wage Garnishment Laws
To find more information about wage garnishment limits in Iowa, including the procedures that employers must follow in carrying out wage garnishment orders, check out the website of the Iowa Workforce Development Agency at www.iowaworkforce.org.