Wage garnishment is the situation in which a court officially orders your employer to withhold a percentage of your pay and orders that it to be sent directly to the person or entity to whom you legally owe the money. In most states, the employer actually sends the garnished amount to law enforcement who then sends it off to the judgement creditor.
The process can repeat each pay cycle until the debt is fully satisfied. At a personal level, not only is this embarrassing, it can tarnish your reputation with your employer. However, under state and federal law, your employer is legally prohibited from terminating you or otherwise retaliating against you because your wages have been garnished.
As a practical matter however, there might be little you can do to prevent your employer from forming a negative impression of you, which might affect your ability to obtain promotions and pay raises down the road.
How much can the creditor garnish from my paycheck?
If your creditor sues you and obtains a money judgment against you which you then fail to pay, the creditor may collect on that judgment by requesting the court order your employer to take as much as 25% of your net income and pay that money directly to the sheriff, who then forwards it to your creditor. That 25% limit applies whether you have one creditor or twenty.
Every state is allowed to limit the amount that can be legally garnished from your wages. Federal law, under Title III of the Consumer Credit Protection Act, places a maximum amount at 25% of your net pay. The states however, are free to limit that amount even further.
Can I legally challenge the wage garnishment?
Yes. You are legally allowed to challenge your wage garnishment by first filing a written objection with the court and by obtaining a hearing date. At the hearing, you must present evidence showing that you need more of your income to pay your expenses or that you qualify for a specific exemption.
What is an exemption?
An exemption can protect your income if you can show that the money to be garnished comes from government paid social security, disability payments, private retirement, or child support payments.
You can also show that you are already legally obligated to make certain payments such as child support and alimony and that the garnishment would prevent you or substantially interfere with your legal obligations to make such payments. If this argument is successful, it will reduce your available net income which means the creditor would technically have less from which to garnish.