What Is Wage Garnishment?
Wage garnishment is when money gets deducted from your paycheck or salary because of an unpaid debt. It’s sometimes also referred to as levies, wage assignments or earnings withholding orders.
Why Are My Wages Getting Garnished?
The process begins when a creditor files a lawsuit against a debtor, usually in general sessions court. They inform the defendant (the person in debt), and then have a hearing. Most of the time the defendant ignores the process and does not attend the hearing. When that happens, the court typically orders a judgement to have the debtor’s wages garnished.
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The debtor has ten days to appeal the decision, although many debtors don’t even realize any of this is happening because they weren’t there for the hearing.
Ten days after the judgment is granted the garnishment order can go to the debtor’s employer. The judgment will usually be about one-third higher than the actual debt, to account for court costs and attorney fees.
Once the employer has the garnishment order, he or she must honor it within three days or at the next scheduled payday.
What Are the Consequences? Will Wage Garnishment Hurt My Credit?
Besides the obvious financial consequences, wage garnishment can hurt your credit and your ability to receive a loan.
It can also cause emotional consequences and lower your work ethic, as you may feel less inspired to work for such a low take-home pay. Lastly, it can actually increase the debt you owe because of interest and court fees that the creditor’s attorney often adds to the total amount owed.
What Debts Can Be Included in Wage Garnishment?
Almost all debts can be included in wage garnishment, but some of the most common are credit cards, child support, student loans, taxes, medical bills, and court fees.
Who Can Garnish My Wages?
Creditors of all types are the ones who pursue wage garnishment. That can include credit card companies, utility companies, or even the federal government. The employer isn’t responsible for the garnishment; he or she is required to comply by law.
Are there Maximum Amounts That Can Be Garnished?
Federal and state law limits the amount of money that can be garnished from your paycheck each week. In general, it shouldn’t be more than 25% of your disposable earnings.
When you have more garnishment orders than can be covered by that amount, there’s a priority order for the debts that get paid. It usually goes in order of federal, local, corporate – so federal taxes, then local taxes, then credit card debt.
There are some exceptions to the maximum for child support and federal tax debt. In the case of child support, creditors can take as much as 50-60% of your paycheck.
What Can I Do to Stop Wage Garnishment?
You only have three options for stopping wage garnishment once it has been issued:
1. Pay the judgment or work out a settlement.
2. File a motion to pay by installments, which is also a form of payment like #1.
3. File a bankruptcy.
For many reasons, wage garnishment is extremely difficult to stop through payment. The added interest and attorney fees accumulate rapidly. The debtors usually have no money with which to repay – if they did, their wages wouldn’t be garnished because they would have paid already. Also, at this point in the process the creditors are often uncooperative. They know if they stick to taking money from a person’s wages, they’re more likely to receive regular payment.
Bankruptcy can put an immediate stop to wage garnishment. Our bankruptcy attorneys in Memphis can talk with you more about that if you have questions.
Can Wage Garnishment Affect Me if I’m an Independent Contractor or Self-Employed?
If you’re an independent contractor or are self-employed, you don’t have conventional wages. A lot of times creditors will actually remove funds directly from your bank account instead by using a levy. They may also come after assets of your business, like tools and equipment.
Can Wage Garnishment Affect My Spouse?
In Tennessee, creditors cannot garnish a spouse’s wages unless it’s a joint debt. Some states do allow this practice, however: Alaska, Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin.
Common joint debts include shared credit cards, utility services under both names, and co-signed mortgages. If joint debt is a concern, you may want to close the offending account if possible and reopen it in one person’s name.
Can I Be Fired If My Employer Sees I’m Getting My Wages Garnished?
Under federal law, an employer can not fire you for a single wage garnishment order; but after two or more orders for wage garnishment, they are allowed to fire you. If you’re worried about your job and already have one wage garnishment against you, you should deal quickly and aggressively with the rest of your debt to protect yourself from any wage garnishment in the future. Our attorneys can help.
Can Tips Be Included in Wage Garnishment?
Are Wage Garnishment Laws Different According to State?
Yes, different states have different laws, but all of those laws are trumped by federal law. For example, some states have community property laws that allow spouses to be affected by wage garnishment even on debts that aren’t held jointly. Tennessee isn’t a community property state.
In general, state laws differ only a little when it comes to wage garnishment; but if you’re concerned about wage garnishment, you should use an attorney from your state.
Do Employers Have to Comply with Wage Garnishment Orders?
Yes, federal law requires that your employer comply with wage garnishment orders. In fact, if the employer doesn’t comply, he or she can be held in contempt of court, which can come with serious fines or even jail time. The employer can also be held liable for your original debt, along with any additional court and attorney fees.
Stopping Wage Garnishment Through Bankruptcy
Remember, bankruptcy is one of the only options for stopping wage garnishment successfully. If you can, it’s much better to start the bankruptcy process before any sort of garnishment begins. Starting early can help prevent a lot of trauma from stress, embarrassment, or difficulty with your employer.
At Darrell Castle & Associates, our great customer care has awarded us with a Client Distinction Award from Martindale-Hubbel. Our Memphis bankruptcy lawyers take wage garnishment very seriously and will do whatever we can to help you prevent it, or end it, depending on your situation. Contact us today to talk for free about your options.