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Wage Garnishment in Tennessee

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In a Nutshell

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 Tennessee regulates wage garnishments.

Written by Upsolve Team
Updated May 11, 2023

Losing part of your paycheck to wage garnishment can hurt, especially if you are already struggling financially. If you’re facing garnishment in Tennessee, it’s important to understand who can garnish your wages and how the process works. This article explains what wage garnishment is, how it works in the Volunteer State, and what protections state and federal law offer you.

What Is Wage Garnishment? 

Wage garnishment is one way creditors may attempt to collect a debt. In most cases, a creditor can’t garnish your wages unless they have a court order. There are a few exceptions that will be discussed later in this article.

A creditor who has a judgment against you (also known as a judgment creditor) can ask the court for a wage garnishment order. The order requires your employer to withhold money from your paycheck to pay your debt. State and federal wage garnishment laws limit how much money creditors can withhold from each check. But the garnishment will typically continue until the debt is paid in full. 

Who Can Garnish My Wages in Tennessee? 

Generally, anyone with a money judgment against you can request a wage garnishment order in Tennessee. A few types of creditors get special treatment and don’t have to get a judgment before they can garnish your wages. For example, wages may be garnished to pay federal student loan debt or some types of tax debt without a judgment. 

Some types of debt also get special treatment when it comes to the amount of money that can be taken from your check. For instance, the limit is generally higher for domestic support obligations, including child support and alimony. 

This article doesn’t address these special types of debt in detail. The information here is focused on general debts such as credit card debt, medical debt, and other common collection items.

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Tennessee Wage Garnishment Process

For most creditors, the first step toward garnishing your wages is filing a debt collection lawsuit against you and securing a judgment. When you are served with a lawsuit, you should not ignore it. If you don’t respond and don’t go to court, a default judgment will usually be entered against you. This means you lose your case without ever telling your side and the creditor can move on to the next step in collecting from you.

A judgment creditor can ask for a wage garnishment order and can also ask the court to seize other property, such as bank accounts. 

A wage garnishment order is served on your employer (called the garnishee). Tennessee law requires the employer to promptly provide the requested information, which includes a calculation of any wages available for garnishment. The employer must withhold the money as ordered and pay it to the court at least once every 30 days. 

You will also receive a notice of garnishment. The notice explains your rights, including how to object if your employer is withholding too much money from your wages. A Tennessee garnishment order is only good for six months, but a new garnishment order can be issued when the previous one expires. 

How Much of My Paycheck Can Be Taken by Wage Garnishment?

Both state and federal laws limit the amount of money that may be withheld from your weekly pay. The state and federal exemptions are nearly identical. Both Tennessee law and federal wage garnishment law limit the amount that can be garnished from a week’s pay to the lesser of: 

  • 25% of your weekly disposable income. This is the amount of money left in your weekly paycheck after deductions for Social Security and federal income tax;  or

  • The amount of your weekly disposable income that is left over after you are paid 30 times the federal minimum wage

Tennessee also protects an additional $2.50 per week for each dependent child under the age of 16 you have living in Tennessee. 

That’s sounds a little complicated, so here’s how it works: 

Federal minimum wage is $7.25. So, at least 30 x $7.25, or $217.50 per week, is protected.

If your disposable income is $200/week, you have no garnishable income. Your employer can’t withhold anything for a regular creditor. 

If you have no children and your disposable income is $280/week, you have excess disposable earnings that can be garnished. Though 25% of your disposable income is $70, your employer can’t withhold $70/week, because that will leave you less than $217.50. So, instead, the employer will withhold $62.50/week and leave you $217.50.

If you have no children and your disposable income is $600/week, the employer will withhold 25%. That 25% ($150) will be paid to the court for the benefit of the creditor. You will receive $450.

The exemption is always calculated based on weekly income. Your employer will be provided with a worksheet for calculating the exemption correctly even if your pay period is two weeks or half a month. The garnishment will typically continue until the full amount of the judgment, along with any fees, costs, and interest allowed by the court, has been paid. The creditor can’t garnish your wages for more than the judgment amount. 

How To Stop a Garnishment in Tennessee

Most wage garnishments continue until either the debt has been paid through garnishment or you pay the debt off directly. Tennessee offers one additional option. Under Tennessee law, you can ask the court for a payment plan that will allow you to make direct payments instead of having your wages garnished.

Bankruptcy can also stop wage garnishments. When most bankruptcy cases are filed, the court enters an order called an automatic stay, which freezes debt collection activity, including wage garnishments. The automatic stay is temporary. But, bankruptcy may permanently end the garnishment.

In a successful Chapter 7 bankruptcy case, most unsecured debts are wiped out. That includes credit card debt, payday loans, medical bills, old rent and utility bills, and more. If the debt is discharged, the garnishment is gone for good. 

Upsolve offers a free tool that can help you file Chapter 7 bankruptcy without a bankruptcy attorney. Find out if you qualify.

If you need other types of help with debt collection matters, legal aid may be able to help. 

Are There Any Resources for People Facing Wage Garnishment in Tennessee? 

Whether you are looking for legal assistance with a debt collection issue or information about your legal rights or the wage garnishment process, check out these resources: 

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