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 Ohio regulates wage garnishments.
Written by Upsolve Team.
Updated December 14, 2021
If you’re working in Ohio and have past-due debt, a creditor can sue you and garnish your wages. Your take-home pay will be lower, which can make it difficult to pay your other bills like rent or your mortgage. In this article, we’ll cover how the wage garnishment process works in the Buckeye State. We’ll also give you some advice on how to protect yourself from wage garnishment and some tips on how to stop a creditor from garnishing your paycheck.
What Is Wage Garnishment?
Wage garnishment is a legal tool creditors use to withhold wages from a debtor’s paycheck to address a past-due debt. Wage garnishment is also called a wage attachment. Creditors must file a lawsuit in court to get an order and judgment requiring your employer to garnish your wages for past-due consumer debt. Consumer debt includes payday loans, past-due rent, credit cards, personal loans, auto loans, mortgages, rental debt, and medical debt.
Federal and state wage garnishment laws (outlined in Ohio Revised Codes Chapter 2716) define the rules, steps, and processes for wage garnishment proceedings. Some of these laws limit how much of your wages can be garnished as well as what kind of income is exempt from garnishment.
Who Can Garnish My Wages in Ohio?
A creditor, debt collector, or debt buyer can garnish your Ohio wages after they get a court order. More than one creditor can garnish your wages, and some creditors will have a higher priority than others.
Federal student loans and past-due tax debt, child support, and alimony are treated differently than consumer debt. The government can generally garnish your wages for these debts without a court order and the wage garnishment limits may also be different than for consumer debt. This article is focused on consumer debt that requires a court order to garnish wages for people working in Ohio.
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Ohio Wage Garnishment Process
In Ohio, most creditors must get a court judgment to garnish your wages. To do so, they must start a civil lawsuit. The lawsuit will likely be filed in one of Ohio's courts of common pleas, municipal courts, or county courts. Here are the steps to the process:
The creditor files the lawsuit. The lawsuit for a judgment begins with a summons and complaint. The creditor will file these with the court and have a copy served on you. The creditor is referred to as the judgment creditor or plaintiff, and the debtor is referred to as the judgment debtor or defendant. The rules for the lawsuit process are in Ohio’s Rules for Civil Procedure.
You have 28 days to answer the creditor’s complaint. You then have 28 days to respond to the summons and complaint with an answer. The answer must be filed with the court and sent to the judgment creditor’s attorney. If a creditor is suing you for past-due consumer debt, consider contacting a consumer protection attorney. They can help you through the process and may find mistakes the judgment creditor made that could lead to the case being dismissed. They will also know if you have any good defenses or objections you can raise.
You can raise objections and defenses. In your answer, let the creditor and judge know if you have any objections to or defenses against the garnishment. These could include that the debt is not yours, that it was discharged in bankruptcy, that the debt amount is incorrect, or that you are exempt from having your wages garnished. If any of these are true, you need to write them down and put them in the answer you serve on the creditor.
Attend the court hearing. The summons and complaint will have instructions and a court date. Be sure to show up for the court date or the creditor could automatically win the case with a default judgment.
The judge will grant an order and judgment. During the court process, the judge will evaluate the evidence then make a decision, which is put into a court order with the judgment. Once the creditor has the judgment, they can start the garnishment process.
A new notice is served, and you must respond. The garnishment process starts with the creditor serving more papers to you. In this case, they’ll serve (in person or via certified mail) a demand notice titled Notice of Court Proceeding to Collect Debt. You have 15 days to respond.
You can act to avoid garnishment. There are four ways to avoid garnishment once you’ve received the Notice of Court Proceeding to Collect Debt: Send in a payment to pay a part of the debt. Pay the debt in full. Apply to have a trustee receive and manage your payments. Or contact a debt counseling scheduling and budget service and make arrangements for a debt scheduling agreement. Your wages can’t be garnished while you are making payments under a debt scheduling agreement with a debt counseling service.
You must complete one of the four items within 15 days of receiving your notice. If you don’t, the creditor will ask the court to order your employer to garnish your wages.
You can make an exemption claim. If you don’t pay or make arrangements, your employer will receive a Court Order and Notice of Garnishment after the 15 days and will give you a copy along with a Notice to Judgment Debtor and Request for Hearing. This will include instructions for requesting a hearing for an exemption claim. You only have five days to make an exemption claim. You can call the court clerk and ask how to file this.
The employer garnishes your wages. If you are not exempt, your employer, referred to as the garnishee, will receive a garnishment notice and be instructed to withhold your wages to pay your debt. You will receive copies.
How Much of My Paycheck Can Be Taken by Wage Garnishment?
Federal and Ohio state laws limit how much of your disposable income can be garnished each week. Your disposable income is the earnings you take home after required deductions like Social Security are taken out of your check. Creditors can garnish whichever is less:
25% of your weekly disposable income or
The amount your weekly wages exceed 30 times the minimum wage. That’s $7.25 x 30, which is $217.50 a week.
To determine how much can be garnished in Ohio calculate the following:
1. 25% of your disposable income. For example, if you make $400 per week, you would multiply 400 x .25 and that equals $100. That means $100 of your wages could be garnished unless the following formula result is lower.
2. First calculate 30 x 7.25 (current federal minimum wage at this writing) = $217.50.
Then, determine the difference between that number and your wages by subtracting.
400 (your wages) - 217.50 = $182.50. This result ($182.50) is not lower than $100. So $100 of your wages in Ohio could be garnished if you make $400 per week.
If you make $217.50 or less, your wage can’t be garnished in Ohio. Although more than one creditor can garnish your wages, the combined garnishments can’t exceed the amount of money allowed by federal and state limits. Also, a creditor can never garnish for more than the total amount of the judgment, including the interest, fees, and costs.
There are special rules for child support payments, federal and state income tax garnishments, and federal student loan debt.
How To Stop a Garnishment in Ohio
Filing bankruptcy in Ohio can stop wage garnishment. When you file bankruptcy, the judge issues an automatic stay, which orders debt collectors to stop collection activity. You’ll be able to protect some assets as listed in Ohio’s state bankruptcy exemption laws. Bankruptcy may also be able to help you get the debt causing your wage garnishment permanently discharged. This means you’ll no longer owe the debt.
You can also pay your debt in full to stop a wage garnishment. This is often not possible for many people, but sometimes you can make a payment plan with the creditor or collection agency. In Ohio, you may also be able to make payments to the creditor after the judgment or use a trustee or debt counselor to manage your debt payments instead of your employer.
If you can’t afford to pay your debt and are interested in filing bankruptcy, a bankruptcy attorney can help. If you can’t afford a bankruptcy attorney, your local legal aid office might be able to represent you or give you some guidance. You may be able to file Chapter 7 bankruptcy for free using Upsolve’s online tool.
Are There Any Resources for People Facing Wage Garnishment in Ohio?
Ohio has legal aid clinics and other resources to help guide you through the wage garnishment process, including:
Southeastern Ohio Legal Services Clinics (SEOLS): Free legal clinics for low-income residents.
Ohio Access to Justice Foundation: A list of legal aid offices throughout Ohio.
Community Legal Aid – Northeast Ohio: Free legal clinics on financial empowerment answering questions related to debt, bankruptcy, and wage garnishments.
Legal Aid Society of Columbus (LASC): LASC can assist you in responding to a debt collection lawsuit in Franklin, Madison, Delaware, Marion, and Union Counties.
Legal Aid Society of Cleveland: Consumer Debt Defense Program offering free legal help for Cuyahoga County residents.
Legal Aid of Western Ohio, Inc.: Court representation and legal assistance with wage garnishment and consumer debt issues.
Ohio Legal Help: A nonprofit organization offering free legal help for money and debt issues.
Ohio Bar Association: Contact information for legal aid offices, monthly plan services, and Ohio attorneys.
Franklin County Law Library: Laws and forms for an Ohio wage garnishment.