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 Missouri regulates wage garnishments.
Written by Upsolve Team.
Updated November 1, 2021
The stress of creditor harassment or unpaid bills is bad enough on its own. But the next step, having your wages garnished, is also embarrassing and can put a serious strain on your finances. Fortunately, if you’re a Missouri resident, you have options to reduce the burden of wage garnishment. This article covers what wage garnishment is, how it works in the Show-Me State, Missouri’s garnishment rules, and what you can do if a creditor garnishes your wages.
What Is Wage Garnishment?
When you owe a debt, such as a medical bill or credit card balance, and don’t make the payments, the creditor can try to collect the money from you. One debt collection method is wage garnishment, which means your employer withholds some money from your paycheck and sends it to the creditor. This can continue each pay period until the debt is paid. Usually, the creditor needs a court order to start a garnishment, and there are state and federal limits on how much of your paycheck they can withhold.
Who Can Garnish My Wages in Missouri?
In Missouri, any creditor who sues you and gets a money judgment against you can garnish your wages. The creditor doesn’t have to be the original person or business you owed money to. It can also be a debt buyer, a debt collector, or a collection agency.
Not all creditors are required to sue you and get a court judgment before garnishing your paychecks. There are special rules that apply to some types of debts. For example, creditors don’t need to get a judgment against you to garnish your wages for debts you owe to the federal government — such as income taxes or defaulted student loans — or for back taxes or fines you owe to the Missouri Department of Revenue. Missouri has different state laws for these administrative garnishments.
There are also different rules for child support garnishments. Most Missouri child support orders automatically require your employer to withhold support from your paychecks. If you stop making payments, the other parent can request a wage garnishment without a judgment. Missouri’s garnishment limits don’t apply to child support garnishments. Instead, Missouri follows the child support withholding limits set out in the federal Consumer Credit Protection Act.
Aside from these exceptions, most Missouri garnishments are controlled by a standard set of rules. This article focuses on the standard wage garnishment procedures.
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Missouri Wage Garnishment Process
Before most creditors can garnish your income, they must file a lawsuit against you and win a judgment.
Step 1: The Creditor Gets a Judgment Against You
A judgment is simply a court order directing you to pay the creditor a certain amount of money. If you don’t respond to the lawsuit or don’t show up to court, the creditor can get a default judgment against you. The creditor must still prove to the judge that you owe the debt, even for a default judgment. A creditor who has a judgment against you is sometimes called a judgment creditor, and you’re called a judgment debtor.
Step 2: The Creditor Gets a Garnishment Order & Delivers It to Your Employer
To begin the garnishment process, a judgment creditor asks the court to issue a garnishment order, sometimes called a writ of garnishment. The creditor delivers the garnishment order to your employer, who’s also called the garnishee. Your employer must give you a copy of the garnishment order within five days of receiving it. The creditor may also send interrogatories — a list of questions that your employer must answer about how often you get paid and how much money you make.
Step 3: You Get a Copy of the Garnishment Order & Can Claim Exemptions and Make Objections
Missouri law has exemptions that protect some of your property from garnishment. Some kinds of income are also exempt from garnishment. After you receive your copy of the garnishment papers, you have 20 days to file a claim of exemption with the court. If you have any other objections to the garnishment, you must file them during this period of time. You can object if you’ve already paid some or all the judgment or if the garnishment amount doesn’t match the judgment amount. Keep in mind, though, that a creditor may legally add court costs and interest to the judgment amount.
Step 4: The Garnishment Begins
Depending on how the court handles your exemptions and objections, the credit may be able to begin garnishing your wages at this point. The amount they can take is limited by law.
How Much of My Paycheck Can Be Taken by Wage Garnishment?
Missouri follows the federal laws for garnishment limits, which are based on the amount of your weekly disposable income. Your disposable income is your gross pay minus mandatory deductions such as taxes and Social Security. Voluntary deductions like insurance aren’t subtracted.
Calculating Your Weekly Pay
Here’s how to calculate your weekly pay, according to Missouri law:
If you’re paid every two weeks, divide your pay by two.
If you’re paid two times a month, such as on the first and fifteenth, divide your pay by 2.17.
If you’re paid once a month, divide your pay by 4.33.
In Missouri, for each workweek, a creditor can take whichever of these is less:
25% of your disposable income, OR
Your disposable earnings minus the federal minimum weekly pay. The federal minimum weekly pay is the current federal minimum wage, which is $7.25, multiplied by 30. This equals $217.50. If your disposable weekly earnings are $217.50 or less, the creditor can’t take anything.
If your weekly disposable earnings are more than $290.00, you’ll use the 25% formula to determine how much of your paycheck can be garnished. If your disposable income for a week is less than $290.00, subtract $217.50 from your weekly disposable earnings to determine how much a creditor can garnish.
Missouri’s Head of Household/Family Exemption
Losing up to 25% of your disposable income can be devastating, especially if other people are counting on your income for their support. Missouri's wage garnishment laws offer you extra protection if your wages support other people. This is called the head-of-family exemption or head-of-household exemption. To qualify for the exemption, you must be financially supporting either a dependent child (under the age of 18), a spouse, or a dependent child who is considered disabled by the Social Security Administration.
If you qualify as a head of a family, a creditor can’t garnish more than 10% of your disposable earnings, with one important exception: If the garnishment is for child support or alimony, the maximum withholding percentage is reduced from 60-65% to 50-55%. To claim the head-of-family exemption, you must file a claim and a supporting affidavit within 20 days after receiving your copy of the garnishment paperwork from your employer.
Continuous Wage Garnishment
As of 2015, Missouri allows continuous wage garnishment. This means the garnishment continues until the judgment is paid in full (or until you change jobs). But the total amount garnished can’t be more than the total judgment (plus any fees, costs, and post-judgment interest). The creditor must file a statement of judgment with the court every six months to show how much of the judgment balance remains.
How To Stop a Garnishment in Missouri
Once you receive notice that a creditor plans to garnish your wages, you have limited options to stop it. One surefire way to stop wage garnishment is by paying off the judgment, either in a lump sum or over time by letting the wage deductions run their course. You can try to negotiate a payment arrangement with the creditor, but you might not have much sway after the garnishment order has been issued. That is unless you have access to enough cash to pay off a good chunk of the judgment right away.
You can also stop the garnishment by filing for bankruptcy. When you file a bankruptcy petition, the automatic stay rule takes effect immediately. This stops all collection actions against you, including wage garnishments. Though bankruptcy, you can eliminate, or discharge, many of your debts, including the judgment debt underlying the garnishment. Your assets or property may be protected through state exemptions.
In some cases, you may be able to file bankruptcy on your own without hiring a lawyer. In more complex cases or if you want legal advice to see if bankruptcy is a good option for you, you may need to speak with a bankruptcy attorney. If you qualify, Upsolve can help you file Chapter 7 bankruptcy at no cost.
Are There Any Resources for People Facing Wage Garnishment in Missouri?
Hiring an attorney can be costly for anyone, and affording help only gets more difficult when your pay is being garnished. Missouri is home to many legal aid organizations that are committed to helping make quality legal representation available to everyone. Some Missouri legal aid options include: