A wage garnishment (sometimes called a wage attachment or wage withholding) occurs when a creditor takes steps to withdraw money directly from your paycheck. Both federal wage garnishment law and Ohio state law limit most creditors to 25% of your wages. Also, most creditors must file a collections lawsuit and receive a money judgment first. But not all creditors need to go to court, and a garnishment for child support or income taxes can exceed 25% of your wages.
(Filing for bankruptcy can stop many wage garnishments in Ohio.)
A wage garnishment is an order from a court or a government agency that requires your employer to withhold a certain amount of money from your paycheck for the benefit of a creditor.
Most creditors can't garnish your wages as soon as you fall behind on a credit card payment or medical bill, however. First, the creditor must file a collection lawsuit in court, win, and get a money judgment stating that you owe the creditor money.
Some exceptions to this rule exist. For instance, your employer can garnish your wages without a money judgment for debts resulting from:
(Learn more—including how to object to a wage garnishment—in Wage Garnishment & Attachments.)
Federal law places limits on wage garnishment amounts, and Ohio law mirrors the federal law. In Ohio, a creditor with a money judgment can take the following amount:
(Figures are accurate as of May 2018.)
Disposable earnings make up the balance remaining after taking out taxes, and other mandatory deductions, from your check. Voluntary deductions for things like health and life insurance don't reduce disposable earnings.
Example. You're paid weekly and earn $1,000 after taxes and other mandatory deductions. The first test—25% of your disposable income—leaves $250 in funds available for garnishment. The second test—disposable earnings less 30 times the federal minimum wage—allows for $782.50. Your employer must send your creditor the lesser of the two amounts, meaning that your employer can garnish only $250 of your weekly pay.
If you owe child support, student loans, or taxes, the government or creditor can garnish your wages without getting a court judgment. The rules governing the amounts are different, too.
(Learn how Chapter 13 bankruptcy can help with child support arrears, tax debt, and in some cases, student loan payments.)
If you have more than one garnishment, the total amount is limited to 25% (unless one of the debts allows for a higher garnishment amount, such as child support arrears). For instance, 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 on behalf of the second creditor.
Complying with wage garnishment orders can be a hassle for your employer, and some might want to avoid the extra work by terminating your employment. Under federal law, your employer can't discharge you if you have one wage garnishment, but won't protect you if you have two or more wage garnishment orders.
Ohio law prevents your employer from discharging you solely because of wage garnishments by a single creditor in a 12-month period. Ohio law also prevents your employer from letting you go because of a child-support garnishment.
To find more information about wage garnishment limits in Ohio, including the procedures that employers must follow in carrying out wage garnishment orders, check out the online Franklin County Law Library wage garnishment section.
(Learn how to protect your property by reading Using Exemptions to Protect Your Wages From Garnishment.)