Virginia Wage Garnishment Law

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

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.)

When Can a Creditor Garnish Your Wages 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:

  • unpaid income taxes
  • court-ordered child support or arrearages, or
  • defaulted student loans.

(Find out more about wage garnishments, including how to object to one, in Wage Garnishment & Attachments.)

How Much Can be Garnished From Wages in Virginia?

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:

  • 25% of your disposable earnings, or
  • the amount by which your disposable earnings exceed 40 times the federal minimum hourly wage (currently $7.25/hour).

"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.

Garnishment Amounts 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—and the maximum amounts are different, too.

  • Child support. Under both federal and Virginia 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. Virginia law protects the same amount as federal law for support orders. (Code of Virginia, § 34-29 (b1).) (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 minimum wage. (Find out more about Student Loan Debt.)
  • Unpaid 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. Virginia doesn't limit how much can be withheld for unpaid local, state, or federal taxes. You can visit the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry's Labor and Employment Law Division and click on Garnishment/Support FAQs to find information about wage withholding for unpaid taxes.

(Learn how Chapter 13 bankruptcy can help with child support arrears, tax debt, and in some cases, student loans.)

Total Garnishment Amount

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.

Job Termination and Wage Garnishments

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.)

More Virginia Wage Garnishment Information

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.

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