New Jersey Wage Garnishment Laws

New Jersey wage garnishment laws limit the amount that can be garnished from your paycheck.

Updated by , Attorney · University of Denver Sturm College of Law

A "wage garnishment," sometimes called a "wage attachment," is an order requiring your employer to withhold a certain amount of money from your pay and send it directly to one of your creditors. Different rules and legal limits determine how much of your wages can be garnished. Creditors can't just seize all of the money in your paycheck.

Federal law limits how much creditors, including judgment creditors, can take. The states are free to impose stricter limits. New Jersey wage garnishment laws put more limitations on wage garnishments than federal law.

What Are the Types of Wage Garnishments?

Generally, any of your creditors might be able to garnish your wages. Some creditors must first get a judgment and court order before garnishing wages. Other creditors don't need a court order.

The most common types of debt that may be garnished from your wages include:

  • child support and alimony
  • unpaid federal and state income taxes
  • federal student loans, and
  • court judgments against you for some other unpaid bill, like a credit card balance or personal loan.

What Are the Limits on Wage Garnishment in New Jersey?

Both federal and state law dictate how much can be garnished in New Jersey. Under federal law, a judgment creditor can garnish the lesser of:

  • 25% of your disposable earnings, or
  • your disposable earnings less 30 times the federal minimum wage. (15 U.S.C. § 1673).

"Disposable earnings" are those wages left after your employer has made deductions required by law.

In New Jersey, $48 is exempt. (N.J. Stat. § 2A:17-50). Also, under New Jersey law, a creditor may only garnish:

  • up to 10% of your income if you earn no more than 250% of the federal poverty level for a household of your size, or
  • for a debt owing to the state, up to 25% if you earn more than 250% of the federal poverty level. (N.J. Stat. § 2A:17-56).

Military pay and benefits are exempt from garnishment in New Jersey.

What Is the Wage Garnishment Process in New Jersey?

The garnishment process often starts after a creditor gets a judgment in court against a debtor. If a creditor gets a judgment against you, your employer will get a notice. The notice tells your employer they must withhold a specific amount of your wages. You'll get notice of the garnishment, too.

The garnishment documents you receive should contain instructions on what you must do to object to the garnishment by claiming exemptions. (You might also be able to object if the wage garnishment was made in error or the creditor failed to follow the law or comply with legal procedures. A garnishment lawyer can help you identify any mistakes and object to the garnishment.)

If you don't object or if your objection fails, your employer will start taking money out of your paycheck and sending it to the garnishing creditor.

What Are Limits for Child Support, Student Loans, and Unpaid Taxes

If you owe child support, federal student loans, or taxes, the government or creditor can garnish your wages without getting a court judgment for that purpose. The amount that can be garnished is different than it is for judgment creditors, too.

Garnishment Limits for Unpaid Child Support

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.

Federal law limits this type of wage garnishment. Up to 50% of your disposable earnings may be garnished to pay child support if you're 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 5% may be taken if you're more than 12 weeks in arrears. (15 U.S.C. § 1673, N.J. Stat. § 2A:17-56.9).

Garnishment Limit for Federal Student Loans in Default

If you're in default on a federal student loan, the U.S. Department of Education or any entity collecting for this agency can garnish up to 15% of your pay. (20 U.S.C. § 1095a(a)(1)). This kind of garnishment is called an "administrative garnishment."

But you can keep an amount that's equivalent to 30 times the current federal minimum wage per week. (Remember, federal law protects the level of income equal to 30 times the minimum wage per week from garnishment.) (15 U.S.C. § 1673).

Garnishment Limits for Unpaid Taxes

The federal government can garnish your wages (called a "levy") if you owe back taxes, even without a court judgment. The weekly exempt amount is based on the total of the taxpayer's standard deduction and the aggregate amount of the deductions for personal exemptions allowed the taxpayer in the taxable year in which such levy occurs. Then, this total is divided by 52. If you don't verify the standard deduction and how many dependents you would be entitled to claim on your tax return, the IRS bases the amount exempt from levy on the standard deduction for a married person filing separately, with only one personal exemption. (26 U.S.C. § 6334(d)).

States and local governments might also be able to garnish your wages to collect unpaid state and local taxes. Contact your state labor department to find out more.

Restrictions on Job Termination Due to Wage Garnishments

Complying with wage garnishment orders can be a hassle for your employer; some might prefer to terminate your employment rather than comply. Federal law provides some protection for you in this situation. Under federal law, your employer can't discharge you if you have one wage garnishment. (15 U.S.C. § 1674).

Also, under New Jersey law, your employer can't fire you because of a wage garnishment order. (N.J. Stat. § 2A:17-56.12).

What Are the Consequences of Wage Garnishment?

The most obvious consequence of a wage garnishment is a reduction in your take-home pay. A smaller paycheck can affect your ability to cover basic living expenses, potentially leading to difficulties paying your monthly bills.

Also, while a wage garnishment won't appear on your credit reports, creditors do report delinquent debt to the credit reporting agencies. And the reports can include information about how the debt is being collected, including through a wage garnishment. The missed payments culminating in a wage garnishment and other negative information will generally stay on your credit reports for seven years, affecting your future financial opportunities and potentially hindering your efforts to rebuild your credit.

Beyond the financial strain, the emotional consequences of wage garnishment can be stressful. Knowing that some of your earnings will be garnished can lead to frustration and anxiety. Seeking advice from a lawyer and exploring ways to resolve the underlying debt or work out payment terms can lessen some of these pressures.

How to Protect Yourself From Wage Garnishment

If you receive a notice of a wage garnishment order, you might be able to protect (exempt) some or all of your wages by filing an exemption claim with the court or 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, as well as the laws of your state. But usually, you must act quickly. File the required form as soon as possible. You might have to go to a hearing, but if you win, a judge might eliminate or reduce the garnishment.

Depending on the type of debt that's being garnished, you might have other options. For example, if the IRS is garnishing your wages because of overdue taxes, you can make a settlement offer (an "offer in compromise") or set up a payment plan.

And you can often stop garnishments by filing for bankruptcy. Your state's exemption laws determine the amount of income you'll be able to keep.

Talk to a lawyer to learn more about how you can protect your wages.

How Long Can They Garnish Your Wages in New Jersey?

A creditor can garnish your wages until the debt is paid off. So, once you get notice of a garnishment, you'll lose part of your paycheck until the debt is repaid unless you take some measure to stop the garnishment, such as claiming an exemption with the court. State exemption laws determine the amount of income you'll be able to keep. Depending on your situation, you might be able to partially or fully keep your money.

Once your wages are being garnished and you've already claimed your available exemptions, your options are to pay the amount owed, come up with a settlement, or file for bankruptcy.

Read More Articles

Learn about wage garnishments for credit card debt.

Find out if a mortgage company can garnish your wages after foreclosure.

Get information about when a creditor will stop garnishing wages.

Getting More Information on New Jersey Wage Garnishment Laws

This article provides an overview of New Jersey's wage garnishment laws. You can find more information on garnishment in general at the U.S. Department of Labor website.

Talk to a Lawyer About New Jersey Wage Garnishments

For information specific to your situation or to get help objecting to a garnishment, contact a local debt relief attorney.

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