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Wage Garnishment in the District of Columbia

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In a Nutshell

A wage garnishment order allows creditors to take money directly from your paycheck. Most of the time, this is only possible after a court has entered a judgment. Here's how District of Columbia regulates wage garnishments.

Written by Upsolve Team
Updated November 18, 2021

If you live in Washington D.C. and have a debt you never repaid, a debt collector can sue you. If it succeeds in this lawsuit, it can get a wage garnishment order to take earnings from your paycheck. Wage garnishment is often unexpected and can make life more stressful. This article will discuss what wage garnishment is, how it works, and your options to minimize its effects if it happens to you. 

What Is Wage Garnishment?

Wage garnishment is a legal procedure that allows creditors to withhold your wages for payment of a debt. It’s also called wage attachment. In most cases, creditors must first sue you and can get a court order to garnish your wages. Only after a court awards them a judgment can they collect a debt through garnishment or attachment. District law governs the wage garnishment procedure while federal law limits how much of your earnings creditors can take from your check. D.C.’s wage garnishment law was recently updated with the Wage Garnishment Fairness Amendment Act of 2018.

Who Can Garnish My Wages in the District of Columbia?

Creditors, debt collectors, and debt buyers for private debts like credit card debt and auto loan deficiencies can garnish wages in the District of Columbia. But only if they first get a valid judgment from the court. In D.C., only one creditor can have a wage attachment on your wages at a time.

Different garnishment rules apply to unpaid debts for taxes, family support obligations, or student loans. In these cases, creditors are not required to get a judgment before garnishing your wages. Washington D.C. law requires each court award of child support to include an automatic income withholding order. It must be served on the employer along with any modifications within two days of the date the support order was entered

This article focuses on the wage garnishment procedure for private debts that require a court order. 

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District of Columbia Wage Garnishment Process 

Before garnishing your wages, creditors must follow a specific step-by-step procedure.

1. The creditor files a lawsuit and is awarded a judgment.

District of Columbia wage garnishment law states that a creditor can’t garnish your wages (or acquire any other personal property) before getting a judgment from a court. To get a judgment, the creditor has to file a lawsuit for the unpaid debt. Once a lawsuit is filed, you’ll be served with the complaint and a summons. It’s important that you respond to this complaint. If you don’t, the creditor will win by default and the court will award it a default judgment. A default judgment or money judgment permits the creditor to apply for a writ of attachment, which allows it to proceed with wage garnishment.

2. Your employer is served with the garnishment order. 

Once a creditor receives a judgment as a plaintiff in a lawsuit, it becomes known as the judgment creditor and garnishor. Your employer is called the garnishee. The judgment creditor will serve the writ of attachment on your employer-garnishee. 

On the same date, the judgment creditor must also mail certain documents to you, the judgment debtor, at your last known address. The documents must be sent by certified or first-class mail. These documents include a copy of the writ of attachment as well as notice that contains three sections each with a paragraph of explanation for the following headings:

  • Why am I receiving this? 

  • Will my wages be garnished? If so, how much?

  • Is there anything I can do?

3. You can file a motion to exempt wages from garnishment.

If you’re a judgment debtor subject to wage garnishment in the District of Columbia, you have certain rights. Under the D.C. Code, you have the right to request a financial hardship adjustment. This allows you to ask the court to decrease how much of your wages are taken through garnishment. You can also apply any state or federal exemptions that protect your wages from garnishment. 

To make this request, you (or an attorney acting on your behalf) must go to court and ask for an exemption. You may also ask the court to undo the judgment under certain circumstances. If you file a motion to reduce the wages subject to garnishment based on financial hardship, you should provide a copy of the motion to your employer immediately so the wage garnishment can be put on hold until the court makes a decision.

How Much of My Paycheck Can Be Taken by Wage Garnishment?

A judgment creditor can’t garnish more than the judgment amount, plus interest and costs. A D.C. writ of attachment is a lien on your gross wages. This lien continues until the judgment, interest, and costs are fully paid. Federal and state laws also limit the earnings that may be taken out of your paycheck.

The total amount of money that judgment creditors can take from a single paycheck is limited by federal law to the lesser of the following: 

  • 25% of your disposable earnings for that week, or

  • The amount by which your disposable earnings for the week exceed 30 times the federal minimum hourly wage. The federal minimum wage is currently $7.25, and 30 times this amount is $217.50.

In the District of Columbia, “disposable wages” are the wages that remain after legally required deductions are taken from your check. 

After serving your employer with an attachment order, the judgment creditor that’s garnishing your wages must meet certain filing requirements every three months. This includes filing a receipt that shows the amount of wages they’ve garnished and the balance due under the attachment as of the filing date. Once the garnishment has been satisfied, the judgment creditor must then file a final receipt with the court. It must also ask the court to vacate the attachment within 20 days of the garnishment’s satisfaction.

How To Stop a Garnishment in the District of Columbia

There are only a few ways to stop wage garnishment. You can pay the amount of money you owe in a lump sum or try to negotiate with your creditor to pay a lower amount, either through a lump sum or a payment plan.

You can also file bankruptcy with or without an attorney. Upsolve offers a free app that can help you file Chapter 7 bankruptcy without a bankruptcy lawyer. As soon as you file bankruptcy, an automatic stay goes into effect and stops the garnishment of your hard-earned wages. It also stops most other collection activities, including foreclosures and repossessions. 

A bankruptcy case may also discharge the debt that’s causing the garnishment. D.C.’s bankruptcy exemptions can help you keep some of your assets in a bankruptcy case. Most bankruptcy attorneys offer free consultations which will help you learn more about bankruptcy and debt relief at no cost.

Are There Any Resources for People Facing Wage Garnishment in the District of Columbia?

The District of Columbia has many nonprofit legal aid organizations to help you deal with a wage garnishment, including:

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