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 Florida regulates wage garnishments.
Written by Upsolve Team.
Updated October 25, 2021
If you have an unpaid debt and a creditor sues you, they may be able to garnish your wages. Then, when you look at your paycheck, you’ll see a big deduction. This can make it hard to pay your bills. The good news is that Florida law provides exemptions you can claim to reduce or stop the garnishment.
This article discusses who can garnish your wages in Florida, the process creditors have to go through, how much creditors can take from your paycheck, and how to stop a garnishment in Florida.
What Is Wage Garnishment?
A wage garnishment is when a creditor takes money out of your paycheck to address a past-due debt. Consumer creditors usually have to win a court judgment before they can garnish your wages. Since the money comes right out of your paycheck, wage garnishments are usually the first collection method consumer creditors use to collect a judgment. But state law limits how much money they can take each pay period.
Who Can Garnish My Wages in Florida?
In Florida, consumer creditors that have won a court judgment can garnish your wages. Consumer creditors include those for credit card debts, medical bills, personal loans, car loans, and more. If the debt has gone to a debt collector or debt buyer, they can also win a court judgment to garnish your wages.
Some creditors can garnish your wages in Florida without getting a court judgment, including:
The IRS and the state taxing authorities
Federal student loan servicers
Parents collecting past-due domestic support obligations such as child support and alimony
Federal government agencies like the Small Business Administration
These types of debts have special rules and limitations. This article will focus on consumer debts that do require a court order for wage garnishment.
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The Florida Wage Garnishment Process
Creditors must follow a complex set of rules before they can get a garnishment order and start taking money from your paycheck.
To garnish your wages, the creditor must first sue you and win. When they file a lawsuit, you’ll be served with the summons and complaint. If you don’t file a timely answer with the court, the creditor will win a default judgment against you. For most cases, you have 20 days to file your answer. For small claims cases, there will be a date for you to appear in court listed on your summons. If you fail to appear, it’s the same as not filing an answer.
If you have a defense to the lawsuit, you should appear in court and state your case. Your chances of winning are probably better than you think.
If the creditor gets a judgment against you, they are called the judgment creditor and you're called the judgment debtor. Garnishments usually won’t start until at least 10 days after a small claims judgment or 30 days after the judgment in other courts. That's because you have that much time to appeal the case. Chapter 77 of the Florida statutes covers garnishment procedures in Florida and lays out the deadlines the creditor must meet to be valid.
Once the creditor gets a garnishment order, it must send the notice of garnishment to your employer. Your employer is known as the garnishee once the garnishment process starts. The garnishee has 20 days to file an answer to the garnishment with the court.
The judgment creditor must also send you the notice of garnishment within five business days of the court issuing the writ of garnishment. You as the judgment debtor have 20 days to file a claim of exemptions with the court and serve it on the judgment creditor by mail or in person.
If you file a claim of exemption, the judgment creditor has 14 business days to respond if you sent it by mail and eight business days if you served it in person. If the creditor doesn’t respond to your claim of exemption within that time, the garnishment may be automatically canceled. If the creditor files a response objecting to your exemption claim, the court will set a hearing.
How Much of My Paycheck Can Be Taken by Wage Garnishment?
The federal Consumer Credit Protection Act (CCPA) sets the minimum garnishment protection laws in every state. The states can enact stronger protections for their citizens, but can’t enforce a law with fewer protections. Florida uses the federal CCPA to calculate garnishments.
Under the CCPA consumer creditors can only take:
25% of your weekly disposable earnings, or
The amount your weekly earnings exceed 30 times the federal minimum wage. Right now that’s $7.25/hour so this amount is $217.50/week. If you make less than $217.50, all of your wages are exempt and can’t be garnished.
The law works in your favor in that creditors can take whichever of these two numbers is less. Disposable earnings are what’s left over in your paycheck after legally required deductions like payroll taxes are subtracted. Here are a few examples of how this pencils out:
Florida Wage Garnishment Calculations
|Example 1||Example 2|
|Weekly Disposable Earnings||$700.00||$265.00|
|25% of Disposable Earnings||$175.00||$66.25|
|30 times $7.25||$217.50||$217.50|
|Amount Greater Than 30 Times Minimum Rule||$482.50||$47.50|
|Lesser of 25% or 30 Times Rules||$175.00||$47.50|
In Example 1, where the employee has disposable earnings of $700 per week, the 25% rule is used since $175 (25% of $700) is less than $482.50 ($700 minus $217.50). In Example 2, the employee has disposable earnings of $265 per week. Here, the 30 times minimum wage rule is used. That’s because $47.50 ($265 - $217.50) is less than $66.25 (25% of $265).
The Head of Household Exemption
The calculations for Florida’s exemptions are the same as the federal exemptions with one exception. You can qualify for a head of household exemption, sometimes called the head of family exemption, if you’re the head of household. For heads of households, Florida’s laws are more favorable than federal law. A head of household is anyone who pays at least half of the living expenses of a dependent, which is broadly defined and includes more than just minor children. The dependent may not even live in the same household. For example, it could be an ex-spouse receiving alimony.
Under Florida law, your income can’t be garnished if you’re the head of household and your weekly disposable income is $750 or less. If your weekly disposable income exceeds $750, a creditor can only garnish your wages if you agree to the garnishment. Often, people agree to this long before the garnishment begins by waiving the head of household exemption when they sign a loan contract.
If you qualify for a head of household exemption, you’ll need to take action to receive it by filing an affidavit with the court that explains your situation. You need to do this within 20 days of receiving your notice of garnishment.
Under federal law, other kinds of income may also be exempt from garnishment including Social Security benefits, veteran's benefits, and workers’ compensation.
How To Stop a Garnishment in Florida
Unless you qualify for a head of household exemption, your options to stop a garnishment under Florida wage garnishment law aren't good. You could pay the total amount of the debt you owe, keep your income under $217.50 per week, or let the garnishment continue until the debt is paid.
You can also eliminate garnishments for consumer debts by filing bankruptcy. As soon as you file for bankruptcy, the court issues an automatic stay, which stops all collection activity against you, including wage garnishments. Most of your property will be protected with bankruptcy exemptions. If you have a simple Chapter 7 bankruptcy case, Upsolve provides a free tool that can help you file your own bankruptcy. For more complicated Chapter 7 bankruptcies or a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, Upsolve can help you get a free consultation with a bankruptcy attorney in your area.
Are There Any Resources for People Facing Wage Garnishment in Florida?
Legal services offices help lower-income people with several legal issues including garnishment. The state of Florida has many legal services and legal aid societies waiting to help people who can’t afford an attorney. You can also visit: