A wage garnishment (also called "wage attachment" or "wage withholding") occurs when a creditor takes money from your paycheck before you receive it to pay off an outstanding debt. In Missouri, most creditors can garnish up to 25% of your income, but under some circumstances, a creditor can take more.
(Can't afford to lose income? Find out how filing for bankruptcy can stop wage garnishments in Missouri.)
A wage garnishment or wage attachment is an order instructing your employer to withhold a certain amount of money from your paycheck. Once deducted, the employer forwards the funds to the creditor (or the sheriff) to pay off a debt. Federal or state law determines how much the employer can take to pay for a specific type of debt.
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 your credit card payments or owe a hospital bill, those creditors must file a lawsuit and obtain a judgment against you to garnish your wages.
However, your wages can be garnished without a court judgment for:
(Find out more about wage garnishments, including how to object to a wage garnishment, in Wage Garnishment & Attachments.)
Federal law places limits on wage garnishment amounts so that you have money remaining to pay for living expenses. Missouri follows the federal standard unless you are the head of the family and residing in Missouri, in which case Missouri law protects more of your income.
Specifically, for any workweek, a creditor can garnish the lesser of:
"Disposable earnings" are those wages left after your employer has made deductions required by law, such as for taxes and Social Security contributions.
Example 1. You aren't the head of household and earn $1,000 per week after subtracting all mandatory deductions. The current federal minimum wage is $7.25. 25% of your disposable earnings is $250. By contrast, 30 times the minimum wage is $217.50, leaving $782.50 available for garnishment. Your employer can garnish the lesser of the two amounts, which is $250.00 per week.
Example 2. You are single and support two dependents as the head of household. You earn $1,000 per week after taxes and mandatory deductions. The current federal minimum wage is $7.25. 10% of your disposable earnings is $100. Your disposable earnings less 30 times the minimum wage is $782.50. Your wages can be garnished up to the lesser amount, which is $100 per week.
If you owe child support, student loans, or taxes, the government or creditor can garnish your wages without getting a court judgment, and for a different amount.
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.
To find more information about wage garnishment limits in Missouri, including the procedures that employers must follow in carrying out wage garnishment orders, check out the website of the Missouri Department of Labor.