Washington law limits the amount that a creditor can garnish (take) from your wages for repayment of debts. The Washington wage garnishment laws (also 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 Washington.
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 Washington?
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 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.
When Regular Creditors Can Garnish Wages Without a Judgment
In Washington, there are some additional exceptions to the judgment rule. A regular creditor may obtain a court order to garnish your wages before obtaining a judgment if:
- you are not a Washington resident or are about to move out of Washington
- have concealed yourself such that ordinary process of law cannot be served upon you, or
- you have removed or are about to remove any of your property from the state in an attempt to delay or defraud your creditors.
Limits on Wage Garnishment in Washington
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, Washington imposes even stricter limits. This means that in Washington, the most that can be garnished from your wages is:
- 25% of your weekly disposable earnings, or
- your weekly disposable earnings less 35 times the federal minimum hourly wage (35 x $7.25 = $253.75). whichever is less.
“Disposable earnings” are those wages left after your employer has made deductions required by law.
Example. You take home $250 per week after taxes. 25% of your disposable earnings is $62.50, and since your disposable earnings are less than 35 times the federal minimum, your creditor cannot garnish your wages.
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 aboutwage garnishment for child support arrears.)
Washington law allows up to 50% of your disposable earnings to be withheld for a support order.
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.
Washington does not assess state or local income taxes.
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. Washington law prohibits your employer from firing you because a creditor garnished or tried to garnish your wages. However, your employer can fire you after being served with three or more garnishment orders within one year.
For More Information on Washington Wage Garnishment Laws
To find more information about wage garnishment limits in Washington, including the procedures that employers must follow in carrying out wage garnishment orders, check out the website of the Washington State Legislature atwww.leg.wa.gov. You can also find information on the website of the Washington Courts at www.courts.wa.gov; click on “Court Forms” and “Garnishment.”