Washington Wage Garnishment Law

Find out when creditors can garnish your wages in Washington state.

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.)

When Can a Creditor Garnish Your Wages in Washington?

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:

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

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:

  • aren’t a Washington resident or are about to move out of Washington
  • have concealed yourself such that ordinary process of law cannot be served upon you, or
  • have removed or are about to remove any of your property from the state in an attempt to delay or defraud your creditors.

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.)

How Much Can a Creditor Garnish in Washington?

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):

  • 25% of your weekly disposable earnings, or
  • your weekly disposable earnings less 35 times the federal minimum hourly wage (35 x $7.25 = $253.75).

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

Garnishment 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 rules governing the amounts are different, too.

  • 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. (Find out more about 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. Washington doesn’t assess state or local income taxes.
  • Child support. Under federal law, up to 50% of your disposable earnings can be garnished for child support if you’re 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 can be taken. An additional five percent is allowed for support payments over 12 weeks in arrears. However, Washington law allows up to 50% of your disposable earnings only to be withheld for a support order.

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

Multiple Garnishments: Total Amount and Job Loss

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.

More on Washington Wage Garnishments

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).

You can also find information on the Washington State Legislature webpage and the Washington Courts webpage (select “Court Forms” and “Garnishment”).

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