Virginia law limits the amount that a creditor can garnish (take) from your wages to repay a debt. Most creditors with a money judgment against you can take only 25% of your earnings. However, creditors can take more if you owe taxes or a support obligation, but only 15% on a defaulted student loan.
(Can't afford to lose income? Find out how filing for bankruptcy can stop wage garnishments in Virginia.)
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.
Most creditors can't get a wage garnishment order until they have first obtained a money judgment stating that you owe the creditor money. For example, if you are behind on credit card payments or owe a doctor's bill, those creditors cannot garnish your wages without first filing a lawsuit in court, winning, and getting a judgment.
Some exceptions to this rule exist, however. For instance, your employer can garnish your wages without a money judgment if the debt is for:
(Find out more about wage garnishments, including how to object to one, in Wage Garnishment & Attachments.)
Federal law limits the amount your employer can garnish your check to ensure that you have enough to pay for your living expenses. Virginia's garnishment limits, which are even stricter, are as follows:
"Disposable earnings" are those wages left after your employer has made deductions required by law.
Example. Suppose that you take home $700 per week after taxes. 25% of your disposable earnings is $175 and your disposable earnings less 40 times the federal minimum wage is $410. Your creditor can garnish up to the lesser amount, or $175. Virginia law protects $525 of your take-home pay.
If you owe child support, student loans, or taxes, the government or creditor can garnish your wages without getting a court judgment—and the maximum amounts are different, too.
(Learn how Chapter 13 bankruptcy can help with child support arrears, tax debt, and in some cases, student loans.)
If you have more than one garnishment, the total garnishment amount cannot exceed 25% unless one of the orders is for support (then it can be more). 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 to send to the second creditor.
Virginia law assigns a level of priority to different types of debt. Consumer transactions, such as a credit card debt, are considered "ordinary" debt. Orders for child support or alimony are given higher priority ("support"), and unpaid taxes are deemed "other" debts. Support orders always receive priority over ordinary debts, meaning your wages will be garnished to satisfy those debts first. If you have more than one ordinary garnishment order, the orders will be satisfied in the order received.
According to federal law, your employer cannot fire you if you have one wage garnishment. However, federal law won't protect you if you have more than one wage garnishment order. Check with a local attorney to find out about state protections.
If you're facing multiple garnishments and are worried that you might lose your job, bankruptcy can help. (Find out more in How Bankruptcy Can Stop Wage Garnishments.)
You'll find more information about wage garnishment limits in Virginia—including the procedures that employers must follow in carrying out wage garnishment orders—on the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry.