Wage garnishment allows a creditor to take a portion of your wages to pay debts that you owe. Wages may be garnished to pay debts that have been reduced to a judgment or taken by administrative orders to pay certain debts, such as child support or spousal support, back taxes, or student loans.
If you're facing a wage garnishment or your wages are already being garnished, you might be wondering whether you should hire an attorney, challenge the wage garnishment on your own, do nothing, or take some other action. Whether you should hire an attorney or address the garnishment some other way depends on a number of factors, like whether:
Also, you should be aware that bankruptcy will stop most wage garnishments.
If you're facing wage garnishment, you might wonder if you can stop it. Sometimes, the best course of action is to do nothing and let your wages be garnished until you've repaid the debt. But other times, it might make sense to challenge the garnishment (or the amount) on your own, work out something with the creditor, or hire an attorney.
Below are some factors to consider when deciding what to do.
If you already paid the debt, or you did not owe the debt to begin with, you should consult with an attorney. At the time a garnishment has been filed, either a court or an administrative agency has determined that you're legally obligated to pay that debt. Because of this, proving that you don't owe a debt once garnishment proceedings have begun can be very complicated. This is one instance where you will definitely need the help of a lawyer. An attorney can assist you in gathering the evidence you need to prove that the debt isn't owed, and making sure that all procedural requirements are met.
If it is likely that the attorney will charge more to represent you than the amount of the debt, it might not make sense to hire a lawyer. Ask the attorney upfront if the attorney's services will cost more than you would have to pay on the debt. A trustworthy attorney will answer that question honestly.
When you're notified that a garnishment has been filed, you'll receive a packet of information from the court or the agency responsible for the administrative wage garnishment. The papers should include an explanation of how much can be taken from your paycheck each pay period. In the case of a garnishment to pay a judgment, federal law allows the creditor to take up to 25% of your wages or the amount that your income exceeds 30 times the federal minimum hourly wage, whichever is less. Some states allow a lesser amount.
Other limits might apply to administrative wage garnishments. If you think the wrong amount is being taken, you should consult with an attorney. If, however, it will be too expensive to hire a lawyer, you can challenge the garnishment amount on your own.
In some cases, your creditor might be willing to work with you, especially if it believes you might file bankruptcy or it will have some other problem garnishing your wages. You can often avoid a levy or administrative wage garnishment by entering into a voluntary payment plan. In most cases, you can negotiate with the creditor yourself. If you're unable to do so or don't want to do it on your own, consult with an attorney.
If your employer threatens to fire you because of the garnishment, you should consult with an attorney immediately. It is illegal for an employer to fire you just because your wages are being garnished.
The judgment creditor isn't permitted to take more of your wages than allowed by law just because those wages are deposited into a checking account. The forms you receive from the court will have a place for you to indicate which portion of your bank account consists of wages. If you're having difficulty with the paperwork, contact an attorney for help.
If you're struggling with debt, you might want to consult with an attorney to find out whether bankruptcy can help you get back on your feet. Filing a bankruptcy petition will stop most garnishments immediately. But it won't stop an income deduction to pay child or spousal support.
If you need help working out a payment arrangement with a creditor, talk to a debt settlement lawyer.