Arizona law limits the amount that judgment creditors can garnish (take) from you paycheck. Arizona wage garnishment laws offer the same protection for your wages as does federal law. Creditors can only garnish nonexempt wages, and the amount they can take is limited.
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.
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:
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. While states are free to impose stricter limits, Arizona has not done so. That means the federal law governs in Arizona. Here are the rules:
Of your nonexempt disposable earnings, creditors can only take the lessor of the following:
"Disposable earnings" are those wages left after your employer has made deductions required by law. To find out what income is exempt in Arizona, see our Exemptions page.
Example. Betty owes money to Lender. Betty's only income is Social Security Disability. Although Lender has successfully obtained a judgment against Betty, Lender cannot garnish her earnings because her earnings are exempt.
Example. Joe also owes money to Lender, and Lender has a judgment against Joe for the debt. Joe has a regular job at which he makes $700 per week after taxes. Joe also receives $200 per week in child support from his ex-wife. Lender cannot garnish Joe's child support income, but it can garnish his wages. 25% of $700 is $175. 30 times minimum wage is equal to $217.50, which is $482.50 less than Joe makes per week. Because $175 is less than $482.50, Lender can only garnish $175 per week from Joe's paycheck.
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.)
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.)
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.
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 Arizona, your employer cannot fire you because you have a child support withholding order. New hires, returning employees, or rehired employees may be required to disclose whether they have an existing child support withholding order, but the employer cannot base any hiring or firing decisions on such information.
To find more information about wage garnishment limits in Arizona, including the procedures that employers must follow in carrying out wage garnishment orders, check out the website of the Industrial Commission of Arizona Labor Department at www.ica.state.az.us/Labor/Labor_main.aspx.