Tennessee Wage Garnishment Law

Tennessee wage garnishment law limits the amount that judgment creditors can garnish (take) from your paycheck.

Tennessee law limits the amount of your wages that a creditor can garnish (take) to repay your debt. The Tennessee wage garnishment laws (also called wage attachment or assignment) may protect more of your wages than federal wage garnishment laws. For the most part, creditors with judgments can take only 25% of your wages. However, for some types of debt, creditors can take even more.

Read on to learn about wage garnishment law in Tennessee.

What Is a Wage Garnishment?

A wage garnishment or wage attachment is an order from a court or a government agency that is sent to your employer. It requires your employer to withhold a certain amount of money from your paycheck and then send this money directly to your creditor.

Different garnishment rules apply to different types of debt -- and there are legal limits on how much of your paycheck can be garnished.

To learn more about how wage garnishments work, how to object to a wage garnishment, and more, see our Wage Garnishments & Attachments topic.

When Can a Creditor Garnish Your Wages in Tennessee?

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 credit card payments or owe a hospital bill, those creditors cannot garnish your wages unless they sue you and get a judgment. Once a creditor has a judgment against you, they become a "judgment creditor" and can garnish your wages.

However, there are a few exceptions to this rule. Your wages can be garnished without a court judgment for:

  • unpaid income taxes
  • court ordered child support
  • child support arrears, and
  • defaulted student loans.

Limits on Wage Garnishment in Tennessee

Tennessee law limits to how much money can be garnished from your paycheck. The purpose of the law is to ensure that you have enough income left to pay for your living expenses.

Federal law places limits on wage garnishment amounts. Tennessee's wage garnishment law protects the same amount of your income as the federal garnishment law, but allows you to protect additional income if you support minor children. In accordance with Tenn. Code Ann. § 26-2-106, below is the most that a creditor can garnish from your wages in Tennessee:

  • 25% of your disposable earnings for that week, or
  • the amount by which your disposable earnings for the week exceed 30 times the federal minimum hourly wage (currently $7.25/hour).

Tennessee law also allows you to protect an additional $2.50 per week for each dependent child you support that also lives in Tennessee. In order to protect the additional $2.50, you must provide your employer with information about your dependent children.

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

Example. You take home $400 per week after deducting taxes and mandatory state retirement contributions and you support two dependent children, ages 15 and 12. 25% of your disposable earnings equal $100 and the amount by which your disposable earnings exceed 30 times the federal minimum wage (30 x $7.25 = $217.50) equals $182.50. A judgment creditor can garnish the lesser amount, meaning the creditor can garnish up to $100 per week. If you advise your employer that you have two dependent children who are under age 16 and live in Tennessee, you can protect an additional $5.00 of your weekly income.

Special Limits for Child Support, Student Loans, and Unpaid Taxes

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

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. (To learn about income withholding orders and other ways child support can be collected, see Child Support Enforcement Obligations.)

Federal law limits what can be taken from your paycheck for this type of wage garnishment. Up to 50% of your disposable earnings may be garnished to pay 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.)

Tennessee law does not protect your wages from garnishment for child support or alimony (if your former spouse remains unmarried); thus, the federal laws apply with regard to support obligations.

Student Loans in Default

If you are in default on a federal student loan, the U.S. Department of Education or any entity collecting for this agency can garnish your wages without first getting a court judgment – this is called an administrative garnishment. The most that the Department of Education can garnish is 15% of your disposable income, but not more than 30 times the minimum wage. To learn more, see the articles in Student Loan Debt.

Unpaid Taxes

The federal government can garnish your wages if you owe back taxes, even without a court judgment. The amount it can garnish depends on how many dependents you have and your deduction rate.

States and local governments may also be able to levy against (garnish) your wages to collect unpaid state and local taxes. Contact your state labor department to find out more. (You will find a link to your state labor department below.)

You can also find information about state tax levies at the Tennessee Department of Revenue website at www.state.tn.us/revenue/. Click on "Library" and then "Taxpayer Bills of Rights."

Total Amount of Garnishment

If you have more than one garnishment, the total amount that can be garnished is limited to 25%. 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.

Restrictions on 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. State and federal law provides some protection for you in this situation.

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.

For More Information on Tennessee Wage Garnishment Laws

To find more information about wage garnishment limits in Tennessee, including the procedures that employers must follow in carrying out wage garnishment orders, check out the website of the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development at www.tn.gov/labor-wfd. Click on "Labor Laws" and then "Tennessee Code."

To learn more about how wage garnishments work, how to object to a wage garnishment, and more, see our Wage Garnishments & Attachments topic.

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