The wage garnishment procedure is a tactic many creditors use when trying to recoup an unpaid debt. Oftentimes, creditors or debt collection agencies will file a lawsuit against individuals with delinquent accounts in hopes of being granted a wage garnishment. But what exactly is a wage garnishment? And is there anything you can do once a wage garnishment has been granted to your creditor? Keep reading to find out.
If your wage has been garnished, this means your creditor is taking a percentage of every paycheck you earn. If you are at the point of having your wage garnished, it’s probably safe to say that you aren’t in the best place financially. Because of this, any amount taken from your paycheck can be crippling. Luckily, there are limits to how much can be taken from you.
If the debt you owe is a normal consumer debt (credit card, car loan, etc.), then the maximum amount that can be taken is 25%. In cases where you have a lower income, the garnishment can only be the amount where your income exceeds 30 times the minimum wage. The maximum amount able to be garnished is decided by which amount is lower. For instance, 30 multiplied by the current minimum wage (7.25) is $217.50. So let’s say you make $500 each week (after required deductions). 25% of $500 is $125. However, the amount by which your income exceeds 30 times the minimum wage is $282.50. The courts would rule that the lower of the two amounts is the maximum amount that could be garnished. In this case, the 25% rule would apply, and you would have $125 taken out of each paycheck.
While this is the MAXIMUM amount that can be garnished, you won’t always have to max garnishment applied to your paycheck. So who exactly determines how much of your wage is garnished? Let’s find out.
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This is a nuanced question. While the creditor does get to request a wage garnishment, ultimately, the court determines the final amount allowed to be garnished. As stated above, there are limits to what can be garnished, but there are some exceptions.
One example of an exception is child support. If you have fallen behind on child support payments, there is a chance up to 50% of your paycheck is taken. This number jumps up to 60% if you aren’t currently supporting another dependent. The same is true for alimony payments. And if you are more than 12 weeks behind, that amount can even go up another 5%.
While the court does state the maximum amount that is allowed to be garnished by your creditor, there is still a chance that your creditor doesn’t ask for the full amount when filing their lawsuit. You can use this to your advantage.
If you are okay with the garnishment in general, but you don’t think you can afford a full 25%, you may want to try negotiating with your creditor. Like we said above, the court tells the creditor the maximum amount they can take, but there is a chance that your creditor could request a lower amount. However, if your goal is to have the creditor request a lower garnishment amount, then you need to act sooner rather than later.
As soon as you are notified of a pending lawsuit against you by your creditor, take action! There is a chance that you could still reach out to your creditor to negotiate. If you are able to get in touch with them, try explaining your situation. Let them know that you are willing to have your wage garnished, but need it to stay at a certain percentage. There is a possibility that your creditor may take this into consideration when moving forward. There are other things you could offer, but we will get to that in the next section.
If you either waited too late to try and get in touch with your creditor, didn’t respond to the summons, or only realized after the judgment that too much is being taken from your paycheck, you can go back to try and negotiate the garnishment. This may be more difficult, however. There are only a couple of ways that you can have the amount lowered once the garnishment has been granted. The first is to see if any of the income the court considered was exempt. If there was exempt income calculated into what is being garnished, then the amount can be taken out, thereby lowering your total garnishment amount.
The second option you have is to simply petition the court for a lower garnishment. If you can show that the amount you take home isn’t enough to support day-to-day expenses, there is a chance your garnishment amount can be lowered. While this isn’t as successful as negotiating before the court’s decision, it can still work. But if none of these options work for you, what else can you do?
Fortunately, there are still a few ways you can lower or get rid of your wage garnishment. Here are just a few options:
Before the court makes a decision, consider reaching out to your creditor and seeing if they will settle. Debt settlement means paying your creditor a lower amount immediately that will satisfy the full sum of the debt. Sometimes, creditors will do this to avoid wasting money on a lawsuit and the headache of monitoring garnishment payments. Do note that it is highly unlikely that a creditor will agree to a settlement after the court has granted them a garnishment. This would really only work before a court decision.
The creditor suing you is responsible for proving that you truly are the one who owes the debt. While this may be easy for the primary creditor, there are times when a debt collection agency has purchased your debt and is suing you for it. If this is the case, you could contest the judgment and force the agency to provide documents and a paper trail that absolutely ties you to the debt. There is a good chance they will be able to do so, but if they cannot, the garnishment will not be granted.
While no one likes to think about bankruptcy, it really may be a good option. Filing for bankruptcy will place an automatic stay on any judgments you are currently dealing with. That means that wage garnishments will stop, pending lawsuits will be paused, and you can continue with your case. In many cases, bankruptcies leave you with a lower total debt amount. This can make it easier for you to keep up with payments.
When faced with wage garnishment, there are a few things you can try to get it lowered or removed. Don’t be afraid to reach out directly to your creditors to see what your options are. And if you want to talk about your options with someone else, give Ascend a call! We’d love to help you make sense of your situation.