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 West Virginia regulates wage garnishments.
Written by Upsolve Team.
Updated October 25, 2021
Wage garnishment can affect you whether you’re working your way through college in Morgantown, working 9-5 in Charleston, or plating up food in the Panhandle. If you’re working in West Virginia and have a past-due debt, a creditor can sue you to get an order to take some of your wages to repay the debt. Keep reading to learn more about what wage garnishment is, how the process works in the Mountain State, what protections you have, and how you can stop it.
What Is Wage Garnishment?
Wage garnishment is a process that creditors use to legally take wages from an employee to pay off past-due debt. For most types of debt, creditors must first get a court order before they can garnish your wages. There are exceptions for IRS debt, student loans, child support, and some other types of debt.
State and federal laws govern the processes, limits, and protections of West Virginia wage garnishment. The federal Consumer Credit Protection Act (CCPA) applies to wage garnishment. But most limitations are governed by state law, including West Virginia Civil Procedure law and the West Virginia Consumer Credit and Protection Act.
Who Can Garnish My Wages in West Virginia?
Creditors, debt buyers, debt collectors, and landlords with a court order judgment can garnish wages in West Virginia. The IRS can garnish your wages and bank account for back taxes and the U.S. Department of Education can garnish your wages for federal student loans, but neither needs a court order. They use a special administrative process. Debt from back alimony and child support payments also go through a special administrative process.
This article is about West Virginia debt that requires a court judgment. Generally, this is consumer debt such as medical bills, credit cards, back rent, personal loans, and auto loans.
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West Virginia Wage Garnishment Process
There are several steps a creditor must follow to get a valid wage garnishment order from the court.
Step 1: The creditor brings a debt collection lawsuit to get a judgment.
In West Virginia, a creditor, debt buyer, landlord, or debt collector must start a lawsuit and get a court-ordered judgment for past-due consumer debt. If the debt isn’t paid after the court issues an order, then the creditor must file more paperwork to start the wage garnishment process.
In debt collection lawsuits, the creditor is called the judgment creditor or plaintiff and the person who owes the debt is the judgment debtor or defendant. In other states, the employer is known as the garnishee. In West Virginia, they’re called a suggestee, and garnishment is called a suggestion. The garnishment proceeding is called a suggestion proceeding.
Step 2: The creditor serves you and your employer a writ of suggestion.
The wage garnishment process in West Virginia starts with a writ of suggestion. A writ is a written order. A writ of suggestion is similar to a writ of execution. The difference is a writ of execution allows the creditor to seize other types of personal property, and the writ of suggestion is solely for wage garnishment. Sometimes both of these will be filed and served together. The creditor must fill out an affidavit, file the writ of suggestion with the court, and serve the writ on you and your employer.
Step 3: You answer the creditor’s writ and file any objections you have.
You and your employer will get a copy of the writ of suggestion through registered mail. Once you and your employer are served, you each have 20 days to respond. Your employer will be responsible for their answer, and you will be responsible for yours.
You can file an answer with the court and mail a copy to the creditor’s attorney. In your answer, you can state your objections. You can object if you don’t owe the debt, if the debt isn’t yours, if your wages are exempt from garnishment, or if your debt was discharged in bankruptcy. There are other legal reasons you can object, and you can talk to a consumer debt attorney to learn more about your options.
Step 4: The court hears your objections.
If you object, a trial will be held and the judge will decide whether your wages can be garnished and if the garnishment amount should be reduced. If you don’t show up for the hearing, the creditor will be awarded a default judgment and your wages will be garnished.
Step 5: The wage garnishment begins.
Once your employer receives a garnishment order, they’re required to take money from your paycheck and make payments to an officer or the creditor to pay off your debt. If your employer doesn’t follow the wage garnishment (suggestion) order, they can be held liable for your debt.
How Much of My Paycheck Can Be Taken by Wage Garnishment?
A creditor can’t take more than the judgment amount, including fees, costs, and interests, from your paycheck. They also can’t take more than the percentage allowed by law, even if you have more than one creditor garnishing your wages. The amount they garnish will come from your disposable income. Your disposable income is your income after mandatory deductions are made. Mandatory deductions include state and federal taxes, Social Security, and unemployment insurance
In the West Virginia Code, wage garnishment is limited to the lesser of:
20% of your disposable earnings for a week, or
The amount your weekly wages exceed 50 times the federal minimum wage. This is currently $7.25, so 50 times that is $362.50
. For example, let’s say you make $600 per week in disposable income. Here’s the math:
20% of $600 is $120.
600 minus $362.50 is $237.50.
Since $120 is less than $237.50, only $120 of your wages could be garnished. The rest of your paycheck would be exempt from garnishment. This is the formula for consumer debt. Other types of debt like child support and federal student loans follow different formulas.
How To Stop a Garnishment in West Virginia
You can stop wage garnishment in West Virginia by renegotiating the debt or paying the debt in full. You can also file bankruptcy. Wage garnishment stops when you file bankruptcy because the court issues an automatic stay, which requires all debt collection activity to stop while the bankruptcy case is processed.
West Virginia state exemptions for bankruptcy will help you protect some of your assets. At the end of the bankruptcy process, your debt for the wage garnishment and other types of unsecured debt can be completely discharged. That means that you no longer owe the debt and your wage garnishment will permanently stop.
You can talk to a bankruptcy attorney to learn more about which kind of bankruptcy is right for you. If you can’t afford an attorney, contact a legal aid office or consider filing bankruptcy by yourself using Upsolve's free web tool.
Are There Any Resources for People Facing Wage Garnishment in West Virginia?
Here are some West Virginia resources that might help you with your wage garnishment:
Legal Aid of West Virginia – Information on protecting your wages from garnishment.
Legal Aid Application – Application and phone number for West Virginia legal aid services.
WV Free Legal Answers – An online resource to ask legal questions related to West Virginia law sponsored by the American Bar Association.
West Virginia Courts website – Contact information for West Virginia courts and links to legal resources.