Washington wage garnishment laws (known as a “writ of garnishment—continuing lien on earnings”) limits the amount that a creditor can garnish (take) from your wages for debt repayment. Washington’s rules are similar to the federal law—most creditors with a money judgment can take only 25% of your wages. However, for a few debt types, creditors can take more.
(Learn about objecting to a wage garnishment in Wage Garnishment & Attachments.)
A wage garnishment is an order from a court or a government agency that requires your employer to withhold money from your paycheck for a creditor. The type of debt determines the garnishment amount and the steps a creditor must take before getting it.
Most creditors can’t garnish your wages as soon as you fall behind on a credit card payment or medical bill. These types of creditors must file a collection lawsuit in court, win, and get a money judgment stating that you owe the creditor money.
Exceptions to this rule exist. For instance, certain creditors—such as the government or the parent of your child—can garnish your wages without a court judgment. Here are the types of debt that fall into this category:
In Washington, there are some additional exceptions to the money judgment rule. A regular creditor may obtain a court order to garnish your wages before obtaining a judgment if you:
In Washington, to be effective, all creditors must take the additional step of serving the garnishment (known as a writ of garnishment—continuing lien on earnings) and other required paperwork on the Office of the Attorney General.
(Find out how bankruptcy can stop wage garnishments when the creditor has a money judgment.)
Federal law limits wage garnishments related to money judgments to 25% of your disposable income. The idea is that you should have enough left to pay for living expenses. In Washington, most creditors can garnish the lesser of the two amounts (but there are exceptions—more below):
Disposable earnings are those wages left after your employer has made deductions required by law.
If you owe child support, student loans, or taxes, the government or creditor can garnish your wages without getting a court judgment. The rules governing the amounts are different, too.
(Learn how Chapter 13 bankruptcy can help with child support arrears, tax debt, and in some cases, student loan payments.)
In Washington, an employer must pay a child support garnishment before other garnishments except an IRS levy received before the support order. Otherwise, payment occurs on a first in time basis, with a maximum deduction amount for all garnishments of 25%, except for support obligations.
Under 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.
Washington law prohibits your employer from firing you because a creditor garnished or tried to garnish your wages unless you’re served with three or more garnishment orders within one year.
To find more information about wage garnishment limits in Washington, including the procedures that employers must follow in carrying out wage garnishment orders, check out the Washington Office of Financial Management Garnishments and Assignments webpage (current as of January 2018).