If you owe a creditor on a debt like a loan, hospital bill, or credit card, it can't automatically garnish your wages. Instead, it must first sue you and get a judgment against you from a court. Once that happens, then the judgment creditor must file papers with the court to start the garnishment process. Once a creditor is attempting to garnish your wages, you might be able to challenge the garnishment by raising an objection. The procedures you need to follow to object to a wage garnishment depend on the type of debt that the creditor is trying to collect from you, as well as the laws of your state.
Usually, you have the right to written notice and a hearing before your employer starts holding back some of your wages to pay your judgment creditor. Typically, that notice is in the form of a "Notice of Garnishment of Personal Earnings" or a similar document that the court sends you. Once you have received this notice that your wages are about to be garnished, you have to act quickly. You have a limited amount of time, which can range from 30 days to just five business days, to object before the garnishments begin.
The process for objecting to a garnishment usually begins with preparing and filing paperwork. The garnishment documents that you received from the court should contain instructions on what you must do to object to the garnishment. Those instructions should include:
the deadline for filing the objection
whether that objection must be in writing
whether you must use a court-provided form or draft your own written objection
the type of information your written objection should contain
where you should file the objection
whether you must also serve a copy of your objection on the judgment creditor and other parties, and
the date, time, and location of any hearing that the court will hold to consider your objection.
If the garnishment papers you received don't contain this information, immediately contact the clerk of the court that issued the garnishment documents to find out this information.
Usually, a form will be included with the garnishment notice that you can use to write your objection and request a hearing. If it isn't, ask for one from the clerk of the court that sent you the garnishment notice. If the court does not have a form, you should write out your objection to the best that you're able and file it on time.
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At a minimum, your written objection to the garnishment should include the following information:
the case number and case caption (ex: “XYZ Bank vs. John Doe”)
the date of your objection
your name and current contact information
the reasons (or “grounds”) for your objection, and
If you believe that your earnings are exempt in full or in part under federal or state law, you should state that fact within your written objection. Explain the nature of the exemptions and provide calculations. Many states have a form specifically designed for this purpose. For more information on exemptions in wage garnishment, read Nolo's Using Exemptions to Protect Your Wages From Garnishments.
You may have additional reasons to oppose the garnishment. For example, you have already paid the judgment creditor or you received a bankruptcy discharge. In that case, you should describe the basis for that objection.
If you do not state your reasons for objecting to the garnishment and timely file that written objection with the right court, you may have waived your right to fight the garnishment later. Therefore, it is extremely important that you file a written objection as soon as possible.
If the court provides for a garnishment hearing, you must attend that hearing to protect your wages. The hearing date and time is either provided automatically with the initial garnishment notice or given to you later after you've filed your objection. If the court hasn't given you a hearing date even though you timely filed an objection, you should immediately contact the clerk of that court to find out the status of your objection and hearing dates, if any.
At the hearing, you're not allowed to argue about the validity of the judgment itself. Instead, the hearing is limited to your claim of exemption or other reason why you believe the garnishment is improper.
You should bring copies of documents that support your objection, such as recent paystubs, if you're claiming an income-based exemption.
If your objection is based strictly on state or federal exemptions, the judgment creditor's attorney might not even appear unless it believes that your income is higher than what you claim. In that case, you just need to make your case with the judge or magistrate, who will interpret your claim of exemption in accordance with the available state or federal exemptions.
If the judge or magistrate accepts (or “sustains”) your objection, then the garnishment might be modified downward or terminated altogether. If your objection doesn't hold sway with the court, then it will overrule it and allow the garnishment to proceed as filed.
Some creditors don't need to get a judgment from a court before they can legally garnish your wages. Those creditors include the IRS (and state and local tax creditors) and the lender for your federal student loans. Nonetheless, you still have some rights. You'll have to follow somewhat different procedures if you wish to object to the wage garnishment, depending on who's trying to garnish you. At a minimum, you will have to submit a written objection and claim any exemptions you might have available under separate federal or state laws, usually within a short period after receiving notice of the garnishment.
If the IRS intends to garnish your wages, you should receive written notice of its intent to levy your wages. You'll be given an opportunity to claim exemptions depending on your household size and income on a form provided by the IRS. These exemptions are different than exemptions you would be entitled to take under other state and federal exemption laws. State and local taxing authorities might be able to similarly go after your wages, subject to caps on the amount they can take from your wages. Research the laws of your state or talk to a local lawyer to find out more information.
If you default on a student loan, you should be given at least 30 days' written notice of the garnishment. This 30-day period gives you an opportunity to request hardship assistance (including a new payment plan), make a written objection, or request a hearing.
This article provides a rough guide for what you must do to object to a wage garnishment. The types of procedures available to you depend on the laws of your state and the type of debt that is involved. To find out the specifics, you should research your state's statutes to learn more. You can also research the rules of the court that issue the garnishment or contact the clerk of that court. Finally, consider contacting a local debt attorney for advice on what to do or hire an attorney to represent you in the garnishment hearing.