2020 Best Invention

How Can I Stop My Wages From Being Garnished?

4 minute read Upsolve is a nonprofit tool that helps you file bankruptcy for free. Think TurboTax for bankruptcy. Get free education, customer support, and community. Featured in Forbes 4x and funded by institutions like Harvard University so we'll never ask you for a credit card. Explore our free tool


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 Attorney Andrea Wimmer.  
Updated October 29, 2021


Having your wages garnished can be overwhelming and scary. There are some things you can do to stop a wage garnishment. Let’s start with the basics first. 

What Is Wage Garnishment? 

A wage garnishment is a debt collection tool. If a garnishment order is in effect, the department that processes your paycheck has to withhold a certain amount of money from your paycheck. This amount is sent to the creditor to reduce the total balance owed. 

How Much of My Wages Can Be Garnished?

There’s a limit to how much creditors can garnish from your wages. Under federal law, the garnishment amount can’t be more than 25% of your disposable income or the amount by which your take-home exceeds 30 times the federal minimum wage (currently set to $7.25/hour), whichever is less.[1]

Creditors and collection agencies can’t take money out of your bank account with a wage garnishment order. State law and exemptions determine what steps a creditor has to take to pursue other collection efforts and exemptions limit how much they can take.   

How Does Wage Garnishment Happen? 

The garnishment process starts when a creditor—like a credit card company or bank—sues you for nonpayment. If they win, they’ll get a judgment against you. The judgment is what gives the judgment creditor the ability to ask for a court order to garnish your wages. The wage garnishment order is what gets sent to your employer. 

How To Stop a Wage Garnishment Before It Starts

If you’re having a hard time keeping up with your payments, consider signing up for a free credit counseling session with a nonprofit near you. After doing a free evaluation of your financial situation, they’ll be able to make some recommendations on how to deal with debt collectors. They may even be able to help you put together a repayment plan to offer to the bank that’s suing you. 

If you do (ignore the lawsuit, that is), it will just speed up the inevitable. If the creditor doesn’t hear from you at all, they’re able to ask the court to grant them a judgment against you by default. That’s called a default judgment, and it’s a bit like losing a softball match by forfeiture because your team didn’t show up. 

Exception: Student Loan Debt And Tax Debt

Federal law provides that your wages (and your social security benefits) can be garnished for back taxes and student loan debt. This means the U.S. Department of Education and the IRS can garnish your wages without first filing a lawsuit or getting a judgment. In fact, they can even garnish your tax refund without a garnishment order. 

(1) Negotiate a Payment Plan With Your Creditor

If you’re not able to pay off the full balance owed in a lump sum payment, now is the time to negotiate a payment plan. At this point, you’ll likely be dealing with a law firm. Let them know what you can afford to pay every month or how much you can afford to pay for a debt settlement. They may require you to complete a questionnaire with information about your financial situation, ask you to submit certain documents to their office, or both. 

If you’re able to agree on a payment plan, you’ve successfully stopped a garnishment before it started! 

While you can technically try to negotiate a debt settlement or payment plan even after a court order to garnish your wages has been entered, it’s a little harder. The creditor has a court order that says they get a certain amount of money from your wages every pay period.  

If your monthly income and living expenses don’t allow you to offer a payment plan that pays at least as much as what they’re getting through the garnishment order, the creditor is not likely to agree to it. 

(2) Challenge the Garnishment

Once the judgment is entered, and the court orders a garnishment, you’ll receive a copy of the order at the time it’s sent to your employer. Along with this notice, you’ll receive instructions on how to challenge the garnishment order in court. If you plan on doing this, make sure you act quickly. 

Depending on your state, you may have as little as 5 business days to file a claim of exemption or similar paperwork. Once that time has passed, your employer (or their payroll company) won’t have a choice but to garnish a part of your paycheck. 

(3) Stop Wage Garnishment With Bankruptcy

If you’re buried in debt and don’t have enough disposable income to pay your basic living expenses, stopping the wage garnishment may only be temporary relief. If you’re struggling with more than one debt and have multiple creditors filing lawsuits against you, you may need a completely fresh start. In that case, consider the pros and cons of Chapter 7 bankruptcy. If it makes sense for you to file bankruptcy, know that the wage garnishment has to stop once your case has been filed. 

The creditor will receive notice that you’re protected by the automatic stay. That’s just like a court order and they’ll have to stop garnishment shortly after you file. Just follow these steps after filing Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy to make sure it really stops. 

If the debt for which you are being garnished is dischargeable like a credit card debt or medical bills, it’ll be erased by the bankruptcy filing, which will end the garnishment permanently.

Exception: Domestic Support Obligations

Even though the automatic stay stops most collection activities, there are a few exceptions. One of these exceptions is wage garnishment for child support and alimony. Garnishment orders for this type of debt survive the bankruptcy filing. 

Let’s Summarize…

If you can, avoid having a default judgment entered against you. That’s the best way to buy some time and possibly negotiate a repayment plan with the creditor. If the wage garnishment has already started, you can try to challenge the judgment or negotiate with the creditor. But, they’re in the driver’s seat, and if they don’t allow you to stop a garnishment by agreeing to make voluntary payments, you can’t really force them to. You can, however, stop the garnishment by filing a bankruptcy case

Bankruptcy is not right for everyone and every situation, but if your wages are getting garnished, it may be the best way to get back on track financially. Keep reading to learn more about personal bankruptcy and other debt relief options and consider scheduling a free consultation with a bankruptcy attorney in your area. 

Upsolve’s free tool may be a good alternative if you’re ready to file but can’t afford to hire a bankruptcy attorney. It helps you file your Chapter 7 bankruptcy case on your own by walking through all the questions you’ll need to answer to complete your bankruptcy forms. For more on how to stop wage garnishment, check out the video below ⬇️.


Sources:

  1. U.S. Department of Labor. (2019, October). The Federal Wage Garnishment Law, Consumer Credit Protection Act’s Title III (CCPA). Fact Sheet #30. Retrieved October 5, 2020, from https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/fact-sheets/30-cppa#

Written By:

Attorney Andrea Wimmer

TwitterLinkedIn

Andrea practiced exclusively as a bankruptcy attorney in consumer Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 cases for more than 10 years before joining Upsolve, first as a contributing writer and editor and ultimately joining the team as Managing Editor. While in private practice, Andrea handled... read more about Attorney Andrea Wimmer

It's easy to get help

Choose one of the options below to get assistance with your bankruptcy:

Free Web App

Take our screener or read our bankruptcy F.A.Q. to see if Upsolve is right for you.

Take Screener
8,422 families have filed with Upsolve! ☆
or

Private Attorney

Get a free bankruptcy evaluation from an independent law firm.

Find Attorney

Bankruptcy Learning Center

Research and understand your options with our articles and guides.

Go to Learning Center →

Already an Upsolve user?

Read Support Articles →

News

    + Show Articles

    Upsolve is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that started in 2016. Our mission is to help low-income families who cannot afford lawyers file bankruptcy for free, using an online web app. Spun out of Harvard Law School, our team includes lawyers, engineers, and judges. We have world-class funders that include the U.S. government, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, and leading foundations. It's one of the greatest civil rights injustices of our time that low-income families can’t access their basic rights when they can’t afford to pay for help. Combining direct services and advocacy, we’re fighting this injustice.

    To learn more, read why we started Upsolve in 2016, our reviews from past users, and our press coverage from places like the New York Times and Wall Street Journal.

    Close

    Considering Bankruptcy?

    Try our 100% free tool that thousands of low-income families across the country have used to file bankruptcy themselves. We are funded by Harvard University, will never ask you for a credit card, and you can stop at any time.

    File Bankruptcy for Free