Federal wage garnishment laws exist to ensure that you have funds to pay living expenses. Pennsylvania’s wage garnishment laws go further by limiting the type of debt a creditor can use a wage garnishment for, as well as the amount that a creditor can seize or "garnish" from your wages.
(Find out more about wage garnishments, including how to object to one, in Wage Garnishment & Attachments.)
When Can a Creditor Garnish Wages in Pennsylvania?
A wage garnishment or wage attachment 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.
In most states, creditors can’t get a wage garnishment order until they have first filed a lawsuit and obtained a money judgment stating the amount you owe the creditor. However, there are a few exceptions to this rule. A creditor can garnish your wages without a court judgment for:
- unpaid income taxes
- court-ordered child support and arrears, or
- defaulted student loans.
(Find out how filing for bankruptcy can help with certain wage garnishments in Pennsylvania.)
Pennsylvania Wage Garnishment Limits
Federal law places limits on wage garnishment amounts; however, Pennsylvania’s stricter limits allow for a wage garnishment only for:
- child or spousal support
- obligations relating to a final divorce distribution
- back rent on a residential lease
- certain types of taxes
- student loans, and
- court-ordered restitution in criminal matters.
Here are some examples of garnishment amounts in Pennsylvania.
- Back rent. In Pennsylvania, garnishments to satisfy judgments for back rent on a residential lease are limited to 10% of net wages provided the garnishment does not cause your salary to fall below the federal poverty guidelines. If your earnings aren’t above the federal poverty guidelines, no garnishment is permitted. (Find out how filing for bankruptcy can stop certain wage garnishments, such as for back rent, in Pennsylvania.)
- Child support. Under both federal and Pennsylvania law, up to 50% of your disposable earnings can be garnished for child support if you are 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 five percent may be garnished for support payments over 12 weeks in arrears. (Learn more about wage garnishment for child support arrears.)
- Defaulted student loans. The U.S. Department of Education (or any entity collecting for this agency) can use an administrative garnishment to deduct wages without a court judgment in an amount of up to 15% of your disposable income, but not more than 30 times the federal minimum wage. (Find out more about Student Loan Debt.)
- Unpaid federal taxes. The federal government can deduct back taxes from your wages without a court judgment. The amount will depend on your dependents and deduction rate.
- Unpaid state taxes. Under Pennsylvania law, garnishments by the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue cannot exceed 10% of your net wages, and your wages must be above poverty guidelines. (You’ll find a link to your state labor department below.)
Net wages are the amount remaining after subtracting deductions for federal and state taxes, Medicare (FICA), involuntary retirement plan contributions, union dues and health insurance premiums.
Other federal rules you should know about:
- Percentage of disposable income. A creditor can garnish 25% of your disposable income or the amount by which your disposable income exceeds 30 times federal minimum wage, whichever is less. In Pennsylvania, if your disposable income is less than 30 times federal minimum wage, your wages cannot be garnished for domestic support obligations, federal taxes or student loans.
- Disposable income definition. "Disposable earnings" are those wages left after your employer has made deductions required by law. Examples of legally required deductions are federal, state and local taxes, social security and the employee portion of state unemployment compensation insurance. Deductions that are not required by law do not count to reduce your disposable income. These include union dues, life and health insurance, and most retirement plan contributions.
(Learn how Chapter 13 bankruptcy can help with child support arrears, tax debt, and in some cases, student loans.)
Total Amount of Garnishment
If you have more than one garnishment, the total is limited to 25% of your disposable income under federal law (unless the particular garnishment allows for a higher amount). For example, 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 to send to the second creditor. You should check with a local attorney for specifics.
Job Termination Due to Wage Garnishments
Complying with wage garnishment orders can be a hassle for your employer; some might be inclined to terminate your employment rather than comply with the order. 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. Pennsylvania follows federal law.
More on Pennsylvania Wage Garnishments
To find more information about wage garnishment limits in Pennsylvania, check out the website of the Pennsylvania Department of Labor.