Wage garnishment can be stressful and hurt your ability to recover from financial shocks. In Florida, there are laws that may be able to help you protect your income.
Written by Attorney Jonathan Petts.
Updated August 7, 2020
In Florida, wage garnishment happens when a creditor gets a judgment from the court to deduct part of your income and use it to pay off your debt. Florida wage garnishment law is similar to federal wage garnishment law, but has some additional exemptions which can help protect part of your income from garnishment. Keep reading to learn about how you can stop wage garnishment in Florida through bankruptcy.
How does wage garnishment work in Florida?
If a creditor wins a judgment against you for unpaid debt, they can ask a court in Florida to order your wages to be garnished. Wage garnishment deducts a portion of your paycheck and gives it directly to a creditor. Money will keep being taken from your paycheck until you pay off the entire balance on the unpaid debt.
For a creditor to garnish wages in Florida, they must follow the rules and procedures laid out in the Florida wage garnishment statute. After obtaining a judgment, the creditor must file a motion requesting garnishment with the court.
You then have a chance to claim exemptions which reduce or eliminate the amount of wages which will be garnished.
If the court agrees that wage garnishment is appropriate, it issues a writ of garnishment. The creditor then serves the writ on the garnishee, such as your employer. When your employers receives the writ, they will begin to garnish your wages.
How much money can be garnished from your paycheck?
There are limits to the amount of income that can be garnished. While the exact amount of money for which a Florida court will order a garnishment varies, there are a few set rules. First, there is a hard limit on the amount of money a creditor can garnish. That amount is calculated based on your disposable income, which is defined as the wages you earn after your employer makes legally-required deductions (like taxes and Social Security).
The hard limit on Florida wage garnishment is the lesser of either:
25% of your disposable income, or the amount by which your disposable income exceeds thirty times the federal minimum wage.
Florida wage garnishment laws prevent creditors from garnishing your paycheck if your disposable income is less than thirty times the federal minimum wage.
So, if you make $150 per week, your wages cannot be garnished because $150 is less than thirty times the current federal minimum wage of $7.25, which is $217.50.
But, if you make $300 per week, then your wages can be garnished by up to $75 per week (25% of $300).
Finally, if you make $250 per week, then your wages can be garnished by up to $32.50 per week (the amount by which $250/week exceeds thirty times the current federal minimum wage of $7.25).
Are you exempt from Florida wage garnishment?
Florida wage garnishment law has various exemptions which can protect you from wage garnishment if you qualify.
One major exemption is the exemptions for heads of household, who are people which pay at least 50% of the living expenses for a dependent. If you qualify as a head of household, and your wages are $750 per week or less, then your wages cannot be garnished. To get this exemption, Florida wage garnishment law requires you to file an affidavit with the court proving that you meet the qualifications for being a head of household.
Some creditors try to get you to waive your right to take the head of household exemption when you receive a loan. As such, even if you qualify for the exemption, it is important to check whether you signed a waiver as part of your loan documents. Any waiver must be written in 14 point font on a separate document attached to the loan contract, and signed by the person taking out the loan.
Can bankruptcy stop Florida wage garnishment?
Yes! If you do not meet any of the exemptions in Florida wage garnishment law, you can still avoid garnishment through bankruptcy. Bankruptcy law protects you from the collection activity of creditors, including from wage garnishment. Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy can also help erase some forms of debt, like debt from credit cards or personal loans. Since wages are garnished in order to repay debts, eliminating those debts can also stop the wage garnishment based on those debts - permanently!
How does the bankruptcy automatic stay stop Florida wage garnishment?
Filing for bankruptcy in Florida puts an automatic stay on wage garnishment, which immediately stops Florida wage garnishment. The automatic stay lasts for as long as the bankruptcy lasts. With the automatic stay in place, you will be able to take home your entire paycheck.
Conclusion: Stopping Florida wage garnishment with bankruptcy
Creditors who win a court judgment against you will try to use wage garnishment to collect debt payments. It is important to review which choices you have for responding to wage garnishment. In Florida, wage garnishment law has certain exemptions which limit the amount of money creditors can garnish. But if those exemptions do not apply, you have an option to stop Florida wage garnishment by filing for bankruptcy.
Filing for bankruptcy immediately stops Florida wage garnishment through the bankruptcy automatic stay. For as long as the bankruptcy goes on, creditors will not be able to garnish your wages or pursue other collection activities against you. Bankruptcy can also eliminate the underlying debts which led to the wage garnishment order against you.
Nobody wants their hard-earned wages to be garnished. The Florida wage garnishment process can be stressful, confusing, and unpleasant. You can stop Florida wage garnishment with bankruptcy. If you think bankruptcy is right for you, you can see if you qualify for Upsolve, a legal non-profit which helps low-income Americans get a fresh start through the bankruptcy process.