When Can Wages Be Garnished?
Creditors use wage garnishment to get paid. Essentially, a creditor obtains a court order which is sent to the debtor’s employer. The order instructs the employer to withhold money from the employee’s paycheck and then send it to the creditor.
Not all debts are treated the same in Florida. However, if you owe someone money, you shouldn’t be surprised if you suddenly have your wages garnished.
Who Can Garnish Wages?
Almost anyone you owe money to can garnish your wages. However, different creditors must take different steps.
For example, let’s say you owe your bank $2,000 on a personal loan. The bank cannot go directly into court and ask for a garnishment order. Instead, they need to obtain a court judgment that you owe them that money. This means they need to sue you, and you have a right to defend yourself. However, if you blow off the lawsuit, a judge might enter a default order against you, which can lead to garnishment.
Other creditors do not have to sue before they can request garnishment, such as when you owe:
- Court-ordered child support payments
- Unpaid taxes
- Student loans in default
How Much Can Be Garnished?
The purpose of wage garnishment is not to bankrupt you, so the government limits the amount that a creditor can garnish. Generally, a creditor can garnish only the lesser of the following:
- 25% of your income, or
- the amount of your income that is more than 30 times $7.25 each week ($217.50), which is the U.S. government’s minimum wage
This means that if your weekly income is less than 30 times the federal minimum wage, you cannot have your wages garnished.
Your income is minus certain legally required deductions, such as federal and state taxes, Social Security, and unemployment tax. Voluntary deductions, for union dues and retirement accounts, count as income.
You should realize that heads of households can exempt even more money–$750 a week. To qualify, you must be providing primary support to a child or other dependent.
Are the Rules Different for Unpaid Child Support?
Yes. Half of your income can be garnished if you are supporting at least one other child (in addition to the one you are paying child support for). However, if you are not supporting another child, then 60% of your income can be garnished to pay child support arrearages.
Fighting a Garnishment
It is possible to fight off a garnishment, but one option is to consider how bankruptcy can help you. This will depend on the debt owed.
For example, if you owe unpaid child support or alimony, then filing for bankruptcy does not eliminate the debt. The automatic stay is also ineffective in virtually all cases involving child support arrearages.
Bankruptcy is a better option if you owe money to a bank or other creditor. In many cases, you can discharge the entire debt. The automatic stay also prevents the creditor from suing to garnish your wages, which can provide some breathing room.
To learn more, speak to a Plantation bankruptcy lawyer at Nowack & Olson today. We are a leading firm with tens of thousands of satisfied clients. Schedule a free consultation by calling 888-813-4737.