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 Pennsylvania regulates wage garnishments.
Written by Upsolve Team.
Updated December 31, 2021
From Pittsburgh to Philadelphia, people in the Keystone State work hard for their paychecks. Having your wages garnished decreases those paychecks. In Pennsylvania, it’s legal for a person or company to garnish your wages for past-due debts. Losing this money can make it difficult to pay the rent or your other essential monthly costs.
Fortunately, there are limits to this debt collection method, and Pennsylvania has more wage protections than many other states. In this article, we’ll help you learn about Pennsylvania’s wage garnishment process, limits, and protections. We’ll also share some tips on how to stop wage garnishment.
What Is Wage Garnishment?
Wage garnishment is a legal technique creditors use to collect money from a person’s paycheck to pay a debt. Wage garnishment is also called wage attachment in Pennsylvania. Creditors must usually get a court order to garnish your wages. One exception is government debts, which don’t require a court order. Pennsylvania is unique and has consumer protections that restrict the type of debt that can be collected through wage garnishment.
Both state and federal laws regulate debt collection. The federal Consumer Credit Protection Act (CCPA) and Title 42 of the Pennsylvania Codes cover wage garnishment. When these laws conflict, the law that lessens the garnishment amount rules. Pennsylvania state laws protect Pennsylvania employees more than federal laws.
Who Can Garnish My Wages in Pennsylvania?
Pennsylvania restricts the types of debt that can be collected through wage garnishment, but creditors, debt collectors, and debt buyers can start an action to garnish wages for certain types of debt in Pennsylvania. Also, more than one creditor can garnish your wages.
Under state law, wages in Pennsylvania can only be garnished for the following types of debt:
Back residential rent
Spousal support and divorce distributions
Restitutions arising out of a criminal court order
That means, in Pennsylvania, your wages can’t be garnished for consumer debt such as credit card debt, personal loans, auto loans, payday loans, defaulted mortgages, and debt from medical bills. This also means that it is against the law for debt collectors to threaten to garnish your Pennsylvania wages for these types of debt. Be sure to contact a consumer protection attorney if a debt collector is illegally threatening to garnish your wages for past-due debt.
This article is focused on Pennsylvania court-ordered wage garnishments, which are primarily for debt related to back rent.
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Pennsylvania Wage Garnishment Process
A landlord, creditor, debt collector, or debt buyer must get a Pennsylvania court order with a judgment to garnish your wages. To get a court order, the creditor must go to court and start a lawsuit.
The creditor serves a summons and complaint.
The lawsuit process begins with a creditor filing a summons and complaint in civil court. They then serve this on you. The lawsuit procedure must follow Pennsylvania’s Rules of Civil Procedure. This outlines the steps for civil lawsuits. You can go to the court’s website or call the court’s clerk if you have questions about the lawsuit process. Many lawsuits for debt are held in the court of common pleas or the Philadelphia Municipal Court.
You answer the summons and complaint.
Once you’re served with the summons and complaint, you must file your answer to it with the court within 20 days. If you receive a summons and complaint, you can represent yourself, but it’s a good idea to talk to a Pennsylvania attorney to learn more about your legal rights.
You can raise objections and defenses.
You may be able to object to the claim for judgment because you don’t owe the debt, you were improperly served, the debt amount is wrong, or the debt was discharged in bankruptcy. You may also have a defense if your landlord incorrectly calculated the application of your security deposit or if your residential lease was invalid.
In Pennsylvania, there are also special rules that limit landlord wage garnishments for victims of abuse. Regardless of whether you have an objection or not, you’ll want to show up in court. If you don’t, the creditor can win a default judgment, and it will be harder for you to stop the wage garnishment.
The judge makes a decision at a court hearing.
During court, the judge will examine the lease and receipts along with the laws, legal documents, and testimonies. The judge then makes a decision and writes a court order. If the judge decides in favor of the creditor, the judgment will contain the debt amount that is owed, plus costs, interest, and fees.
The creditor serves the Notice of Intent to Attach Wages.
Once the creditor has a judgment, they can fill out more forms to start the wage garnishment process. One of the forms is the Praecipe for Notice of Intent to Attach Wages. Praecipe is just an old-fashioned legal term for a written form requesting an action.
The court clerk will attach the notice with a paper showing the most recent federal poverty guidelines. The creditor will have these papers served on you, the judgment debtor. If you’re exempt from the debt based on your income and federal guidelines for poverty, you must file an exemption claim within 30 days to claim the exemption, so don’t ignore that Notice of Intent! Rule 3312 in the Civil Procedures has the form to file the claim.
You can make a claim for exemption.
If you file the claim within 30 days, the clerk will notify the creditor that you are exempt. If you wait until after your wages are garnished, then you’ll have to go back to court and get a court order to stop the wage garnishment.
Your employer is served and withholds money from your paycheck.
If you do nothing, the clerk will send a Writ for Attachment of Wages to your employer. Then, your employer must legally withhold a certain amount of your wages to pay your debt and send that money to the court clerk for your debt.
How Much of My Paycheck Can Be Taken by Wage Garnishment?
Fortunately, a creditor can’t take your whole paycheck to pay your debt. They also can’t take more than the judgment amount including the fees, costs, and interest. Wage garnishment laws are created with the intent of giving you enough money to survive. There are federal and state laws with formulas that determine how much of your paycheck can be garnished.
This starts by calculating your disposable income. This is your income after legally required deductions are taken out. A creditor-landlord in Pennsylvania can only deduct 10% of your disposable wages for past-due debt.
If your wages are below federal poverty guidelines, or if your wages will be below federal poverty guidelines when your wages are garnished, then you are exempt from the garnishment. That means your wages and bank account can’t be garnished. In Pennsylvania, your wages are also exempt if the judgment was for damaged rental property and you were the victim of abuse.
There are different limits to how much of your wages can be garnished for child support, alimony, federal taxes, and student loans.
How To Stop a Garnishment in Pennsylvania
There are only a few ways to stop a wage garnishment if you are not exempt. You can pay the debt, renegotiate a payment plan, or file bankruptcy. When you file bankruptcy, a judge issues an automatic stay, which orders all collection activity to stop, including garnishment.
In Pennsylvania, you can use federal or state exemptions during bankruptcy to protect your property, but you must have lived in Pennsylvania for at least two years to claim the state exemptions. If you file bankruptcy, you may get all of your debt discharged, including your debt for the wage garnishment. That means you will no longer owe the debt and the debt collectors can no longer try to collect it.
A bankruptcy attorney can help you file bankruptcy and handle much of the paperwork and process for you. If you can’t afford an attorney, a legal aid office might be able to assist you. You also have the option to file bankruptcy on your own. There is a lot of paperwork involved, but Upsolve has a free app that can help you file Chapter 7 bankruptcy on your own for free.
Are There Any Resources for People Facing Wage Garnishment in Pennsylvania?
If you’re facing wage garnishment in Pennsylvania, the following resources may be helpful:
Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network – Contact information for statewide legal aid offices.
Pennsylvania Free Legal Answers – An online service from the American Bar Association where you can ask a legal question and get a response from a volunteer attorney.
Allegany County Law Library – Free information for the public to understand court processes, links to forms, and numerous pro bono resources.