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Wage Garnishment in Illinois

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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 Illinois regulates wage garnishments.

Written by Upsolve Team
Updated November 7, 2022

If someone sues you and gets a judgment against you, their next step could be to garnish your wages. Wage garnishment — having some of your paycheck withheld to pay a debt — can make an already difficult financial situation even harder. In Illinois, creditors and employers must comply with strict rules and limitations about how wages can be garnished and the amount of money that can be withheld. This article covers how wage deduction works in the Prairie State and what you can do if you’re facing wage garnishment.

What Is Wage Garnishment?

If you owe money to a person or business (otherwise known as a creditor), wage garnishment is one method the creditor can use to collect that money. When your wages are garnished, your employer keeps a certain amount of your check each pay period and sends it to the creditor to pay toward your debt. The garnishment continues until the debt is paid. In most cases, the creditor must get a court order to garnish your wages. There are limits on how much money can be withheld from each paycheck, though these limits vary from state to state.

Who Can Garnish My Wages in Illinois?

In Illinois, any creditor can usually garnish your wages if the creditor has a Wage Deduction Order against you. This includes the original creditor or any of that creditor’s representatives, as well as debt collection agencies or debt buyers.

To get a signed Wage Deduction Order, most creditors must first file a lawsuit against you for the money you owe. If the creditor proves to the judge that you owe the debt, the court will enter a judgment against you in the amount of the debt. If you ignore the lawsuit or don’t go to court, the court can still enter a default judgment against you for the money owed. Once the creditor has a money judgment against you, the creditor can use wage garnishment or other measures to try to collect the judgment debt.

The garnishment rules are different for certain types of debts. Some examples include income taxes owed to the IRS, defaulted student loans, and debts owed to the state of Illinois. A creditor doesn’t need to sue you or get a judgment against you to garnish wages for these debts, and different rules control how much can be garnished from each check.

Child support and alimony are also subject to different rules. In Illinois, all child support orders include an automatic wage deduction order. Even if child support is not automatically deducted from your paycheck, the other parent can get a Wage Deduction Order against you if you miss payments. Illinois uses the federal law guidelines for child support garnishments. Under Illinois law, child support can be withheld from any type of income, even income that is off-limits to other creditors, such as workers’ compensation and unemployment benefits.

Wage assignments are another exception. A wage assignment is usually something you agree to as part of a contract. For example, if you get a payday loan, the loan agreement could contain a section that says you agree to a wage assignment if you miss two back-to-back payments. Illinois law treats wage assignments as voluntary agreements, not as wage garnishments, so the standard garnishment rules don’t apply.

Although Illinois wage garnishment law has special procedures and rules in place for these types of debts, this article focuses on typical consumer debts, such as medical bills or credit card debts, which require a judgment and wage deduction order.

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Illinois Wage Garnishment Process 

In Illinois, a creditor with a judgment against you (sometimes called a judgment creditor) usually initiates the wage garnishment process by sending a Citation to Discover Assets to your employer and mailing a copy to you. In some counties, instead of a Citation to Discover Assets, the creditor sends a Wage Deduction Summons to your employer and a Wage Deduction Notice to you. The documents and process are substantially the same regardless of the form title.

Your employer must provide the information requested in the citation before the hearing date shown on the citation’s front page. Illinois citation forms and the information requested vary from county to county, but, at a minimum, your employer must tell the creditor whether you are employed, how much you earn, and how often you get paid.

If your employer provides the requested information before the hearing date, they don’t have to attend the hearing. On the hearing date, the judge will issue a Wage Deduction Order. You and your employer will both receive a copy of the order. After your employer receives the order, your employer will begin garnishing your wages. 

You don’t have to attend the hearing, but you may attend. The hearing is your only opportunity to object to the garnishment. You can object to the garnishment if your wages are protected by exemptions that your employer didn’t include with its answer to the creditor. Employment income is usually not exempt under Illinois law, but other kinds of income are exempt from wage deductions. Some examples of exempt income include Social Security and other income from the federal government, workers’ compensation benefits, unemployment benefits, and government assistance, to name a few.

You can also object to the garnishment if the amount of the judgment is incorrect. For example, if you’ve already paid part of the judgment and your payment hasn’t been properly deducted from the total. You can’t object to the validity of the judgment at this hearing, only the remaining balance.

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

Illinois law limits the amount that can be taken from your paycheck to fulfill a wage deduction order. From each paycheck, your employer can withhold whichever of these two is smaller:

  • 15% of your gross wages (before subtracting taxes and other deductions); or

  • Your disposable earnings (the take-home amount after taxes and deductions are subtracted) minus Illinois’ hourly minimum wage multiplied by 45. Illinois’ minimum wage in 2021 is $11, and $11 x 45 = $495, so this number would be your net pay minus $495. 

If your take-home pay is less than $495 per paycheck, your employer can’t withhold anything from your pay.

The total amount deducted from your pay can’t be more than the amount of the judgment, plus any additional costs, fees, and interest. The creditor’s court costs are usually included in the amount of the judgment, and some judgments also include the creditor’s attorney fees. Illinois judgments automatically accrue post-judgment interest at an annual rate of either 9% (for judgments of more than $25,000) or 5% (for judgments of $25,000 or less).

State law requires the creditor to send your employer an updated Certificate of Judgment balance every January 1, April 1, July 1, and October 1 until the judgment is paid in full.

How To Stop a Garnishment in Illinois

In rare cases, you may be able to contact the creditor and work out a payment arrangement that doesn’t involve wage deductions. Because you don’t have much negotiating power at this point, your chances of success are small. Depending on the size of your paycheck, the creditor may be facing a very long period of small payments trickling in, so they may be open to another payment arrangement. But the creditor was likely aware of this before proceeding with the garnishment order, based on your employer’s answers to the Citation to Discover Assets.

For the most part, there are only two ways to stop wage garnishments in Illinois. First, you can pay off the judgment. You may be able to pay the judgment in a lump sum, or you may have to wait for the garnishment to run its course. The second way to stop a garnishment is by filing bankruptcy. When you file bankruptcy, a section of the Bankruptcy Code called the automatic stay stops all debt collection efforts against you, including the garnishment. Through your bankruptcy, you may be likely to eliminate, or discharge, the judgment debt completely. Depending on your circumstances, you may be able to complete the forms and file Chapter 7 bankruptcy by yourself for free without hiring a lawyer. 

Are There Any Resources for People Facing Wage Garnishment in Illinois?

If you’re dealing with a wage garnishment, it may be helpful to consult with a licensed Illinois attorney to discuss your options. Even if you can’t afford to hire an attorney, there are legal aid organizations that may be able to help. These are some of the legal aid resources available in Illinois:

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