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 Hawaii regulates wage garnishments.
Written by Upsolve Team.
Updated December 31, 2021
When a creditor gets a court order to garnish your wages, they’re allowed to take money directly from your paycheck. This can make it difficult to pay your other bills including your housing, which can put you at risk of foreclosure or eviction. Luckily, state and federal laws limit how much a creditor can take each pay period. And the laws in the Aloha State are better than many other states. This article will cover what wage garnishment is, how the process works in Hawaii, and what you can do to avoid it.
What Is Wage Garnishment?
Wage garnishment is a legal process that allows a creditor to take money from your paycheck for an unpaid debt. Most creditors must sue you in Hawaii district court and win before they’re allowed to garnish your wages. Once a creditor gets a court judgment, they may pursue collection actions such as wage garnishment or a bank account levy. State and federal laws limit how much of your weekly wages can be garnished.
Who Can Garnish My Wages in Hawaii?
Any creditor that gets a valid court order and judgment can garnish wages for unpaid consumer debt in Hawaii. This includes the original creditor as well as debt buyers or debt collection agencies. Once a creditor gets this court order, they are referred to as a judgment creditor.
Creditors for some types of debt can garnish your wages without a court order, including:
The IRS and the Hawaii Department of Revenue when collecting back taxes.
The federal government when collecting on defaulted federal student loans.
Custodial parents collecting on court-ordered child support payments and child support arrears.
An ex-spouse collecting on court-ordered alimony or spousal support.
This article will focus on consumer debts, like credit cards and medical bills, that do require creditors to get a court order for wage garnishment.
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Hawaii Wage Garnishment Process
For most creditors, the wage garnishment process in Hawaii begins by bringing a lawsuit to get a judgment on a past-due debt. Some people decide to fight the lawsuit and dispute the unpaid debt. Other people may ignore the summons and complaint. But if you do this, the judgment creditor can get a default judgment against you, meaning you lose the case by not showing up. If the creditor proves to the court that you owe the debt and wins a garnishment order, the creditor still has to follow certain steps before they can garnish your wages.
Step 1: The creditor gets a copy of the judgment form.
The creditor must wait 10 days after the court judgment is issued to start the garnishment process. After 10 days, the creditor can start the garnishment paperwork, including getting a copy of the judgment form. This form contains the total amount that you owe the creditor.
Step 2: The creditor must give you a notice of entry of judgment form.
The creditor has to notify you that you owe them money. They do this by giving you a form called a notice of entry of judgment form.
Step 3: The creditor files a motion for wage garnishment or a motion to get more information on your employment.
After the judgment creditor has taken care of the first two steps, they must file a motion in court indicating that they want to be paid by wage garnishment. They do this with a form called a motion for issuance of garnishee after judgment form. This form should include the name and address of the garnishee. For a wage garnishment, the garnishee will be your employer.
If the judgment creditor doesn’t know your employment information they can file a motion with the court to issue paperwork allowing them to gather that information from you. After gathering the necessary information, the judgment creditor can file the motion for wage garnishment.
Step 4: The creditor must serve paperwork on you and the garnishee.
If the court grants the wage garnishment, the creditor must then serve the following forms to the garnishee or the judgment debtor as appropriate:
Notice to the Employer/Garnishee
Motion for Order to Show Cause on Garnishee
Step 4: You can object to or dispute the garnishment.
At this point, you or your employer can object to or dispute the garnishment. You can also claim exemptions. The court may hear the objections. If the court doesn’t find the objections persuasive, it will allow the wage garnishment to start. If the court grants your objections, the creditor may not be able to garnish your wages or may only be allowed to garnish a reduced amount. You can object if the debt was previously discharged as part of bankruptcy, you’re on an approved payment plan with the creditor, there have been overlooked exemptions, or there were issues with how the paperwork was served.
Step 5: The garnishment begins.
After the court hears objections and grants the garnishment, the wage garnishment will begin immediately after the service of a Declaration of Judgment Creditor. Your employer will withhold a portion of your paycheck and send it to your creditor. Once the debt is fully paid off, the judgment creditor will file a release of the garnishee form with the court. This indicates that the debt has been satisfied and the garnishee no longer has to withhold money from your paycheck.
How Much of My Paycheck Can Be Taken by Wage Garnishment?
Both federal laws and state laws limit how much a creditor can take from your paycheck. Hawaii garnishment laws allow debtors to choose whether to use federal exemptions or Hawaii exemptions.
If you choose to use federal exemptions, your wage garnishment will be limited to:
25% of your weekly disposable income or
The amount your weekly disposable earnings exceed 30 times the federal minimum wage ($7.25 x 30 = $217.50), whichever is less.
Your disposable earnings are what’s left after taxes, Social Security, Medicare, and unemployment insurance are subtracted from your gross pay. Say for example that your weekly disposable income is $500.
25% of $500 is $125.
To find how much $500 exceeds $217.50, just subtract. $500 minus $217.50 is $282.50.
So if you used the federal exemptions, the maximum amount that could be garnished would be $125 each week, since that’s the lesser of the two amounts.
The formula under Hawaii law is more complicated. Hawaii uses a progressive wage garnishment step system on disposable income where there is:
5% taken on the first $100 of monthly disposable income;
10% taken on the next $100 of monthly disposable income; and
25% taken on all monthly disposable income over $200.
This calculation looks a little different if your pay period at work is bi-monthly or weekly. Using the same example of $500 in weekly disposable wages, your monthly disposable wages would be $2,000. Assuming 4.3 weeks each month where you are netting $500 each week:
5% of the first $100 equals $5; plus
10% of the next $100 equals $10; plus
25% of the remaining $1,950 equals $487.5.
To get the total garnishment amount, we add all those numbers up to get $502.50. That’s how much can be garnished under Hawaii exemptions.
Also, keep in mind that wages may not be your only form of income. Some income is exempt from wage garnishment entirely, including Social Security income, a retirement annuity, veterans benefits, and several others.
How To Stop a Garnishment in Hawaii
You really only have two choices to stop wage garnishment in Hawaii: Pay off the debt or file bankruptcy. If you’re already struggling financially and that’s what led to the garnishment, it may not be possible to pay off the debt in one lump sum. You can let the garnishment play out to repay the debt, but you may also have to pay interest and other fees.
You may want to consider filing bankruptcy. Once you file your bankruptcy case, all collection activities must stop, including wage garnishment. This is because the court will issue an automatic stay. Some people are afraid to file bankruptcy because they don’t want to lose their property. Luckily, you’re protected with both state and federal bankruptcy exemptions. In Hawaii, you can choose the most favorable protections available to you under either federal law or state law.
If you are considering bankruptcy, you can use Upsolve’s free online filing tool to file a simple Chapter 7 bankruptcy without a lawyer. If your case is more complicated, Upsolve can connect you with a free consultation with an experienced bankruptcy attorney.
Are There Any Resources for People Facing Wage Garnishment in Hawaii?
There are several nonprofit legal aid organizations and government resources that provide legal help to those who need it in Hawaii.