What Is Wage Garnishment?

Learn how a creditor can force your employer to take money out of your check.

A wage garnishment—the most common type of garnishment—allows a creditor to instruct your employer to deduct a portion of earnings out of your paycheck. The funds get applied to your debt until it’s paid off.

In most cases, your creditor cannot immediately start garnishing your wages after you fall behind on a payment. Instead, a creditor must file a lawsuit and prove to the court that you owe the claimed amount. If successful, the court will issue a money judgment to the creditor for the balance owed.

Once the creditor secures the money judgment, it can fill out additional paperwork that sets forth the current amount due, including accumulated interest and costs. The creditor gives the completed paperwork to the local law enforcement department responsible for serving it on the employer (often the sheriff).

Once received, the employer notifies the employee of the garnishment. You will have a short period to object to the deduction if it will cause undue financial harm to you and your family. Instructions outlining the objection process should be included with the paperwork. If not, contact the sheriff’s office or the self-help department at your local courthouse.

You have other rights, too. Both federal and state law put limits on the amount that a creditor can deduct from your paycheck. To find out more, read What percentage of my wages can creditors take? Also, you can stop a garnishment cold by filing for bankruptcy.

Additionally, you should understand that not all creditors have to secure a court judgment before garnishing your wages. For instance, the federal government is only required to follow an internal procedure before issuing a garnishment for unpaid taxes.

(For articles about other collection techniques available to your creditors, go to Nolo’s How Creditors Collect Debts: Property Repossession, Wage Garnishment, Bank Attachment, and More topic page.)

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