Wisconsin wage garnishment laws (also called wage attachments) limit the amount that a creditor can garnish (take) from your wages to repay debts. For the most part, creditors with judgments can take only 20% of your wages. However, for a few types of debts, creditors can take more.
(Find out more about wage garnishments, including how to object to one, in Wage Garnishment & Attachments.)
A wage garnishment 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 a creditor. The amount of the garnishment, and what a creditor must do before getting it, depends on the type of debt.
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 (the right is created in statutory law). Here are the types of debt that fall into this category:
There are circumstances under which your income cannot be garnished. A creditor cannot garnish your wages if:
Also, in Wisconsin, the holder of a payday loan can't ever use a wage garnishment to collect the debt. (Wis. Stat. Ann. § 812.35.)
(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. Wisconsin goes a step further by imposing even stricter limits. Here's what most creditors can garnish (but there are exceptions—more below):
"Disposable earnings" are those wages that remain after your employer has made deductions required by law. Also, if either of the above-listed amounts would cause your household income to fall below the federal poverty line, your creditor can only take up to the amount by which your household income exceeds the federal poverty line.
Example. Assume that after required deductions, you take home $400 per week. Under the "20% of your disposable earnings" test, the amount available to a creditor would be $80. The amount under the second test—30 times the federal minimum wage—would be $182.50. Because your gross earnings for the year are above the poverty line, your creditor would be able to garnish your wages and take the lesser of the two amounts, which is $80 per week.
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.
Example. Your weekly disposable income is $400 per week. Your employer already withholds $80 per week for child support. Because your child support order equals 20% of your disposable earnings, another creditor can garnish up to 5% more ($20) of your earnings to repay your debt.
Wisconsin law permits only one garnishment at a time (unless one of the garnishments is for support). If you have both a support garnishment and a judgment creditor garnishment, the total amount is limited to 25%.
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. In Wisconsin, your employer cannot fire you, take adverse employment action, or charge you a fee for a garnishment.
To find more information about wage garnishment limits in Wisconsin, go to the website of the Wisconsin State Legislature and click on the Wisconsin Law link. You'll find garnishment information in Chapter 812.