How Can I Stop My Wages From Being Garnished?

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In a Nutshell

Wage garnishment is a common problem for millions of Americans. It can be deflating to have your wages garnished. But you do have options to protect yourself.

Written by Kristin Turner, Harvard Law Grad.  Reviewed by Attorney Andrea Wimmer
Updated July 22, 2020


If your wages are being garnished, there are a few options to stop it. This article explains what wage garnishment is, how it happens, and how to stop it.

What is Wage Garnishment?

Wage garnishment is a tool used by creditors to collect their debts through the court system. When a creditor has not been repaid, they can initiate a lawsuit against the borrower. If the creditor wins the lawsuit, or obtains a judgment by default, they can ask the court to order a garnishment of the borrower’s wages. Once this is done, the creditor takes the garnishment paperwork to the sheriff, who delivers the information to your employer. Once the garnishment has begun, a portion of the borrower’s paychecks will be sent to the creditor before the borrower ever receives the check. 

Why Garnishment Happens

Garnishment usually happens when a creditor sues you for an unpaid debt and wins in court, getting a judgment against you. Garnishment frequently happens when debtors do not appear in court, allowing the creditor to win a default judgment

Once the creditor has won in court and asked to garnish your wages in order to collect on the judgment, the court will mail a notice to you and your employer about what is happening. Don’t be embarrassed that your employer knows you’re being sued over a debt. This happens more often than you think - approximately four million Americans had their wages garnished in 2013 along, according to Pro Publica. Individuals making between $15,000 and $40,000, are most likely to experience garnishment. So you are not alone! The best practice is for you to have a conversation with your employer or HR department to keep them posted on what’s happening and what you’re doing to resolve it. 

A garnishment of your paycheck will begin soon after the notices are sent, from anywhere from 5 to 30 business days. The garnishment continues until the debt is paid in full. Sometimes court fees and interest are tacked on to this amount. The amount that can be garnished from your wages varies based on the exemptions available in your state. 

Sometimes, garnishment can happen even without a court order, if you owe child support, back taxes or unpaid federal student loans.

Stopping Wage Garnishment

One strategy to deal with the wage garnishment is simply to pay off the judgment in one lump sum by borrowing from friends and family. If that’s not possible, there are three other ways to stop the wage garnishment. 

1. Negotiate with your creditor

One way to end your wage garnishment is to call your creditor and get them to agree to a repayment plan. Look at your budget and see what you can pay. Then can call your creditor and see if they will agree to a repayment plan that actually works for your budget. This can be a successful strategy but keep in mind that once the creditor has a garnishment order, they don’t have to accept your repayment plan offer to collect on the judgment. 

2. Challenge the garnishment

If you believe the judgment was entered wrongly or is causing undue harm to your personal finances, you can challenge the garnishment order in court. But to do this you have to act quickly. Depending on your state you may have as little as five business days to file your response, contesting the garnishment order. 

3. Erase the Garnishment with a Fresh Start through bankruptcy

If you’re buried in debt and cannot pay your basic living expenses, solving the wage garnishment may only be temporary relief. The broader issue could be that you need a fresh start. If so, consider the pros and cons of Chapter 7 bankruptcy. If bankruptcy makes sense for you, filing will stop the wage garnishment while your bankruptcy case is pending. The creditor will receive notice from the bankruptcy court to stop garnishment shortly after you file. And if the debt for which you are being garnished is dischargeable like a credit card debt, then it will be erased in the bankruptcy process, which ends the garnishment permanently.

Conclusion

Wage garnishment is a common problem for millions of Americans. It can be deflating to have your wages garnished. But you do have options to protect yourself. 

You may decide to settle or legally contest the garnishment. Or you may need more meaningful and lasting debt relief like a bankruptcy discharge to eliminate the garnishment entirely. If you are in serious debt and need free bankruptcy help take this short quiz to see if you qualify to use our free web app for your Chapter 7 case and feel free to browse our Learn Center to read up on all of your options!



About the authors
Kristin Turner, Harvard Law Grad

Recipient of Harvard Law School’s Public Welfare Foundation A2J Tech Fellowship.

Attorney Andrea Wimmer

Andrea practiced exclusively as debtors’ counsel in consumer chapter 7 and 13 cases for more than 10 years before joining Upsolve, first as a contributing writer and editor and ultimately joining the team full time in August 2019. While in private practice, Andrea handled all ban... read more

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