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 Georgia regulates wage garnishments.
Written by Upsolve Team.
Updated October 21, 2021
Wage garnishment allows a creditor to take money directly from your paycheck to repay a debt. Luckily, creditors must get a court order to do this. Still, getting notice that you’re being sued by a creditor is stressful, and losing your wages to garnishment can cause serious financial hardship. It’s important to understand how this process works in the Peach State, so you know how to defend yourself. The article will explain what wage garnishment is, how it works, and what you can do about it if it happens to you as a resident of Georgia.
What Is Wage Garnishment?
A wage garnishment is a debt collection tool creditors use to take a portion of a person’s earnings to repay an outstanding debt. Most creditors have to get a court order before they can garnish your wages. They are also limited by law in how much they can take each pay period. Wage garnishment is mainly governed by state law, although the federal Consumer Credit Protection Act (CCPA) limits how much of an individual’s earnings can be garnished.
Who Can Garnish My Wages in Georgia?
In Georgia, there are four types of wage garnishment, though only two are relevant to consumer debts, which is the focus of this article. Garnishments may be continuing or “one-shot” and any creditor, debt collector, or debt buyer with a valid judgment can garnish your wages.
Some debts follow special rules. For example, federal debts, like tax debts and federal student loans, are regulated by special federal laws. Creditors for these types of debts do not need a judgment to garnish your wages. This is also true for child support, alimony, and state taxes.
This article focuses on the wage garnishment process for non-special private debts that require the creditor to get a judgment before garnishing your wages.
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Georgia’s Wage Garnishment Process
Creditors need to follow several steps before they can legally garnish your wages.
1. The creditor brings a lawsuit against you.
The wage garnishment process begins with a creditor or debt collector filing a lawsuit and receiving a judgment. The garnishment process can only start after a party gets a judgment from the court.
If you are served with a lawsuit, you’ll receive a complaint and summons. You must file an answer to the complaint served with the summons. Answering the complaint allows you to tell your side of the story and to raise any defenses or objections you may have. If you don’t answer the complaint, the court will award the creditor a default judgment. This allows a judgment creditor to initiate garnishment proceedings more quickly. In Georgia, creditors that get a default judgment can initiate garnishment proceedings immediately. With a regular judgment, the creditor must wait 10 days to file a garnishment.
2. The creditor files garnishment paperwork with the court and serves your employer.
Once a creditor has a judgment it’s called a judgment creditor. The judgment creditor then files an Affidavit of Continuing Garnishment for Wages with a Georgia court and serves this paperwork on your employer — called the garnishee. The creditor can serve the paperwork in person, by mail, or with an authorized service, which usually requires court permission.
The judgment creditor must also serve you with the same documents within three days of serving the garnishee. These documents include an affidavit of garnishment, a summons of garnishment, and a notice to defendant rights against garnishment of money, including wages and other property, and a defendant’s claim form.
3. You can file a claim for exemption.
Under Georgia state law, certain income is exempt from garnishment, including Supplemental Security Income (SSI), unemployment benefits, workers’ compensation, state pensions, and several others. You’ll need to file a claim for exemption before the court issues a judgment for garnishment. Once you file a claim, the court will schedule a hearing within 10 days. At the hearing, you have to prove that you qualify for the exemption.
While you can claim exemptions at this point, you can’t challenge the judgment itself that the court issued in the collections lawsuit. Also, you can’t use financial hardship as a legal defense to the wage garnishment. At any point in this process, though, you can contact the party garnishing your wages to try to negotiate a payment plan or pay off the judgment in a lump sum.
How Much of My Paycheck Can Be Taken by Wage Garnishment?
Creditors can’t garnish your paycheck for more than the amount in the judgment plus interest, fees, and costs. The amount garnished each paycheck is limited by state and federal law.
Under Georgia law, a judgment creditor can take the lesser of the following:
25% of your weekly disposable earnings, or
The amount that your weekly disposable earnings exceed $217.50. This is 30 times the federal minimum wage ($7.25), a formula set by law. If you make less than $217.50 per week, your wages can’t be garnished.
Your disposable earnings are the wages remaining after your employer takes mandatory deductions out of your check, like federal, state, and local taxes; Social Security; and the employee portion of Georgia’s unemployment compensation insurance. Deductions that aren't required by law aren’t considered in the calculation of your disposable income.
To see how this formula works, let’s say you make $400 a week in disposable income. In that case:
25% of $400 is $100
$400 - $217.50 = $182.50.
Since $100 is the lesser of the two, the creditor could only garnish up to $100 per week.
How To Stop a Garnishment in Georgia
To stop a Georgia garnishment, there are only two options. First, you can pay the amount of money you owe, either through a lump sum or a payment plan you negotiate with your creditor. Second, you can file bankruptcy. Upsolve’s free online tool can help you file Chapter 7 bankruptcy on your own without a bankruptcy lawyer. Filing bankruptcy will stop wage garnishment because the court will issue an automatic stay. This stops all collection activities, including wage garnishment. Also, the debt causing the garnishment may be dischargeable in bankruptcy.
Georgia’s bankruptcy exemptions can help you protect some of your assets when filing bankruptcy. If you’d like to learn more about bankruptcy and debt relief, you can also talk to a bankruptcy attorney. Most will provide legal advice in a free consultation.
Are There Any Resources for People Facing Wage Garnishment in Georgia?
There are many nonprofit legal aid organizations in Georgia that can help you deal with wage garnishment, including: