Wage garnishment can happen after a creditor gets a money judgment against someone for non-payment. Each state has its own laws about wage garnishment and Arizona is no different. Even the Wild West has some rules to protect its citizens when they’ve fallen on hard times.
Written by Upsolve Team.
Updated October 21, 2021
Wage garnishment can happen after a creditor — such as a credit card company, a debt collector, or a debt buyer — gets a money judgment against someone for non-payment. Regardless of who is garnishing your wages, it’s a stressful thing to experience.
There are some federal guidelines in place, but each state has its own laws about wage garnishment. Everything from how the process works to how much can be garnished is regulated by state law. The Grand Canyon State is no different. Even the Wild West has some rules to protect its citizens when they’ve fallen on hard times.
What Is Wage Garnishment?
In general, a wage garnishment happens after a creditor gets a judgment against you. The creditor can file a lawsuit in court for nonpayment. Once a judgment is entered, creditors can use legal tools to collect the judgment from you. Wage garnishment is a legal process that allows a creditor to repay itself by taking money directly from the debtor’s paycheck.
Certain special types of debt — like income tax debts or past due child support — don’t require a court order to seek garnishment. For most debts, like medical or credit card debt, creditors will be required to get a wage garnishment order before they can start taking part of your paycheck. Arizona law lays out the process someone has to follow to get a wage garnishment order.
Arizona Wage Garnishment Process
The wage garnishment process starts after the court has entered a judgment against you.
Step 1: The Creditor Files Applies for a Writ of Garnishment
After the judgment has been entered against you in a debt collection lawsuit, the judgment creditor — the plaintiff — has to file an “Application for Writ of Garnishment” along with a number of supporting documents with the clerk of the court. Once processed, the judgment creditor will serve the signed writ of garnishment and summons either through a process server, a deputy sheriff, or a court constable.
Step 2: Your Employer Submits Information to the Court
At this point, your employer (referred to as the garnishee) can expect to receive some paperwork. They'll have 10 days to let the court know whether you're still employed there and expect to continue to receive a paycheck in the near future.
If yes, you're eligible to have your wages garnished in future pay periods based on the court judgment entered against you.
Step 3: You Can File an Objection
After your employer submits their paperwork, it’s your turn. You can expect to receive four different forms:
Form 2: Signed Writ of Garnishment and Summons,
Form 7: Initial Notice to Judgment Debtor of Garnishment,
Form 8: Request for Hearing on Garnishment; and
Form 9: Notice of Hearing on Garnishment.
The judgment creditor has to deliver these documents within three business days of serving your employer. Once your employer files the Garnishee Answer and gives you a copy, you’ll have 10 business days to object in an effort to stop the wage garnishment. If you received the documents in the mail, you’ll have 15 days to file your objection.
You can file an objection for several different reasons, such as a lack of proper notice given or a lack of jurisdiction on the part of the creditor. If you think there might be an error in the amount you owe or the amount that your employer states is eligible for garnishment, this is your opportunity to request a hearing and present your case.
You should also file an objection if you think the proposed garnishment would cause you extreme financial hardship. If the court agrees with you, they could lower the percentage of your paycheck that can be garnished.
Step 4: The Garnishment Begins
If there are no objections, or if they have been made and addressed in a hearing, it’s time for the actual wage garnishment to begin. Your employer will withhold the agreed upon amount from your paycheck each pay period. This is then paid to the judgment creditor, who will then report how much they have received and how much is left to be paid in their Creditor’s Garnishment Report. When the debt is paid in full, the creditor must file paperwork officially releasing your employer from their obligation to send them your garnished wages.
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How Much of My Paycheck Can Be Taken by Wage Garnishment?
There are some things that are automatically taken from your paycheck, such as income taxes, Social Security, and Medicare. Your disposable income, the amount that can be garnished, is the net total after the required taxes are taken out.
Arizona state law provides that the total amount garnished cannot exceed the amount in the judgment because the creditor can’t take more money from you than you owe them. In general, the amount garnished each pay period is either:
25% of your disposable income (if an extreme financial hardship is recognized by the court, this number could be lowered to 15%); or
The amount by which your disposable earnings exceed 30 x the federal minimum wage, whichever is less.
Are There Other Exemptions?
In addition to the general exemption protecting your disposable earnings under Arizona law, some types of income are exempt from garnishment, no matter what. This includes government provided benefits, like Social Security, unemployment, and disability benefits.
The state of Arizona also provides exemptions for some types of pensions and survivor benefits, as well as for unemployment, workers’ compensation, and welfare assistance. These earnings protections apply to wage garnishment as well as to bankruptcy.
Who Can Garnish My Wages in Arizona?
Once a creditor has a money judgment, they become a “judgment creditor” and you become a “judgment debtor.” This is true whether you fight the lawsuit or ignore it and have a default judgment entered against you. The judgment is then turned into a garnishment order that is submitted to your employer.
Any creditor with a valid wage garnishment order can garnish your wages in Arizona. When it comes to the wage garnishment process, a creditor is someone you owe money to. Whether it’s the original creditor or a debt collection agency that has bought up the debt, a creditor can only obtain a judgment (other than a default judgment) if they can show they’re owed money.
There are some debts, like child support, defaulted student loans, and income tax debts, for example, which are in a special category when it comes to wage garnishments. Arizona law provides that all child support is paid through an income withholding order that is issued automatically, without a court order. Federal authorities, like the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), also have the ability to garnish wages without a writ of garnishment issued in the Arizona state court system.
How To Stop a Garnishment in Arizona
There are really only two ways of stopping a garnishment: You can pay off the total amount you owe or you can file bankruptcy to eliminate the debt.
For some, letting the garnishment take its course and paying off the debt may be the way to go. But if this is not the only debt you're dealing with, once this debt is paid off any other judgment creditor can pick up the baton and start garnishing your wages next.
That's why for many Arizonans, a wage garnishment order is the last straw. Once a judgment creditor takes up to 25% of their disposable earnings, paying regular living expenses becomes difficult if not impossible.
In some cases, filing bankruptcy to stop wage garnishment could be the most responsible thing you can do. It ensures that your family is taken care of while the bankruptcy court determines whether there's anything for the creditors to take. When you file bankruptcy, the court will issue an automatic stay that stops all debt collection actions against you until the bankruptcy process can be completed.
Upsolve can help you file Chapter 7 bankruptcy for free without a lawyer. Use our free online tool to see if you qualify. You can also find an experienced bankruptcy attorney who can help you examine your situation and determine the best course of action.
Are There Any Resources for People Facing Wage Garnishment in Arizona?
If you’re facing wage garnishment, it’s hard to see how you might be able to pay for legal advice when up to a quarter of your income is already being threatened. The following nonprofit organizations provide free legal assistance to eligible Arizonans.