Florida law limits the amount that a creditor can take or seize or "garnish" from your wages to repay your debts. The Florida wage garnishment laws, also called "wage attachments," generally follow the federal wage garnishment laws. But some exemptions are available in Florida, which might limit a creditor's rights to garnish your wages. For the most part, creditors with judgments can only take up to 25% of your wages and only if your wages meet a minimum threshold. However, for a few types of debts, creditors can take more.
A "wage garnishment" or "wage attachment" is an order from a court or a government agency sent to your employer. It requires your employer to withhold money from your paycheck and send this money directly to your creditor.
Different garnishment rules apply to different types of debt—and legal limits apply for how much of your paycheck can be garnished.
Most creditors can't get a wage garnishment order until they've first obtained a court judgment stating that you owe the creditor money. For example, if you're behind on credit card payments or owe a doctor's bill, those creditors can't garnish your wages unless they first file a lawsuit, win, and get a money judgment against you.
Exceptions exist, though, if you owe:
In these situations, your wages can be garnished without the creditor taking additional steps to get a court judgment.
Federal law places limits on how much money can be garnished from your paycheck. The idea is that you should have enough left to pay for living expenses. Florida hasn't imposed stricter limits, so federal law governs in Florida. Here are the rules:
A creditor can garnish 25% of your disposable income or the amount by which your disposable income exceeds 30 times federal minimum wage, whichever is less. In Florida, if your disposable income is less than 30 times federal minimum wage, your wages can't be garnished at all. (Fla. Stat. Ann. § 222.11).
"Disposable earnings" are those wages left after your employer has made deductions required by law. Examples of legally required deductions are federal, state and local taxes, Social Security, and the employee portion of state unemployment compensation insurance. Deductions that aren't required by law—such as union dues, life and health insurance, and most retirement plan contributions—aren't used to reduce your disposable income.
Florida law allows employers to charge you for complying with wage garnishment orders and to deduct these charges from your paycheck.
If you are head of the family and your wages are $750 per week or less, your wages can't be garnished by a judgment creditor if you claim the head of family exemption unless you agree to the garnishment in writing. To qualify as head of family, you must provide more than one half of the support for a child or other dependent. (Fla. Stat. Ann. § 222.11).
This exemption isn't automatic; you must claim it by filing an affidavit with the court when you're notified that the creditor intends to request a wage garnishment.
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 fall behind in child support payments.
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. (15 U.S.C. § 1673).
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, 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. (20 U.S.C. § 1095a(a)(1), 15 U.S.C. § 1673).
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. (26 U.S.C. § 6334(d)).
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.
Under federal law, if you have more than one garnishment, the total amount garnishment amount is limited to 25%. (15 U.S.C. § 1673). 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, and some might be inclined to terminate your employment rather than comply with the order. State and federal law provide some protection for you in this situation.
Federal law prohibits your employer from discharging you if you have one wage garnishment but won't protect you if you have more. (15 U.S.C. § 1674). A local attorney should be able to advise you about protections in Florida.
Check out the website of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity at floridajobs.org for information about wage garnishment limits in Florida, including the procedures employers must follow when carrying out wage garnishment orders.