Wisconsin law limits the amount that a creditor can garnish (take) from your wages to repay your debts. The Wisconsin 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 20% of your wages. However, for a few types of debts, creditors can take more.
Read on to learn about wage garnishment law in Wisconsin.
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 Wisconsin?
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 Wisconsin
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, Wisconsin imposes even stricter limits. In Wisconsin, the most that can be garnished from your wages are:
- 20% of your disposable earnings, or
- the amount by which your disposable earnings exceed 30 times the federal minimum wage (30 x $7.25 = $217.50) whichever is less.
If either of the above-listed amounts would cause your household income to fall below the federal poverty line, your creditor may only take up to the amount by which your household income exceeds the federal poverty line.
Example. You take home $400 per week. 20% of your disposable earnings is $80, and your income less 30 times the federal minimum wage is $182.50. You support a household of five and are the only wage earner, and your gross earnings for the year are above the poverty line. Your creditor may take the lesser of 20% or 30 times the minimum wage, which is $80 per week.
If you are paying child support and the support order is for less than 25% of your disposable earnings, your creditor is entitled to be paid the difference between the support order and 25% of your disposable earnings.
Example. You take home $400 per week and $80 per week is withheld for child support. Your child support order equals 20% of your disposable earnings, thus your creditor can garnish up to 5% more ($20) of your earnings to repay your debt.
There are circumstances under which your income cannot be garnished. A creditor cannot garnishyour wages if:
- you receive public assistance, medical assistance, veterans benefits, supplemental security income, of food stamps, or have received these benefits within the last 6 months
- your household income is below the federal poverty line, or
- 25% of your disposable earnings are currently being garnished for support.
“Disposable earnings” are those wages left after your employer has made deductions required by law.
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.)
Wisconsin law limits the amount that can be garnished for a child support order to 50% of your disposable earnings.
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.)
Wisconsin law does not limit the amount of income that can be garnished for unpaid taxes.
Total Amount of Garnishment
Wisconsin law permits only one garnishment at a time (unless one of the garnishments is for support). If you have a support garnishment and a judgment creditor garnishment, the total amount that can be garnished is limited to 25% if federal law governs.
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. In Wisconsin, your employer cannot fire you, take adverse employment action, or charge you a fee for a garnishment.
For More Information on Wisconsin Wage Garnishment Laws
To find more information about wage garnishment limits in Wisconsin, including the procedures that employers must follow in carrying out wage garnishment orders, check out the website of the Wisconsin State Legislature at www.legis.wisconsin.gov and click on the Wisconsin Law link.