Wages Garnished? Protect Your Earnings. Consult an Attorney.

by Jovan A. Johnson, Esq.

Losing a portion of your wages can be a nightmare. Sadly, many experience this. It is important to understand the issues surrounding wage garnishments. This article focuses primarily on consumer-based debt.

What is a Wage Garnishment?

A “wage garnishment” is a collection method that allows creditors to satisfy a debt by taking money directly from your paycheck. Money is taken before tax, and unfortunately your financial discomfort is not  considered.

When Can Wages Be Garnished?

To garnish your wages a creditor must sue you and win. Interest can be added to your judgment–California allows 10% interest.

How is a Lawsuit Initiated?

A lawsuit is initiated when a creditor files a complaint with a court. Threats to sue and demand letters are only precursors to a lawsuit.

What is an Answer?

An answer is an official response to a lawsuit. Filing an answer:

  • delays the case and collection process for a limited time, and
  • requires a filing fee (up to $300).

How Much Can be Withheld in a Garnishment?

Title III of the Consumer Credit Protection Act allows gross / pre-tax garnishments of:

  • 25% for standard judgments, and
  • 50-60% for child support, spousal support, and state and federal taxes.

Can Your Employer Punish You For Having Your Wages Garnished?

Title III specifically prohibits an employer from firing you due to one garnishment. You may be fired if you are garnished by two or more creditors.

What Are My Options if My Wages Are Being / Will Be Garnished?

1. Negotiate.

It is extremely difficult to negotiate a payment plan with a creditor who has moved to garnish your wages. There is little incentive for them to negotiate unless you are able to pay a substantial lump sum quickly. Cash is king.

2. File a Claim of Exemption.

People experiencing extreme financial hardship can petition to stop a garnishment by filing a Claim of Exemption. Contact the levying officer (sheriff’s office) to find out the proper way to submit your documentation.

3. File Bankruptcy.

Ultimately you may consider filing bankruptcy. Even if you are able to stop your garnishment, the creditor may levy your bank account (the sheriff takes the money). Reversing a bank levy is very difficult and prohibitively expensive.

Bankruptcy can be a great financial option. Filing bankruptcy allows you to promptly and legally stop your wages from being garnished. Chapter 7 Bankruptcy wipes out debt completely.

Should You Contact an Attorney?

Contact an attorney if:

  1. your wages are being garnished,
  2. you are being threatened with having your wages garnished, or
  3. you are having problems paying your debt.

Many attorneys offer free no-obligation consultations. Clients have told me on a number of occasions that they feel much better having learned about and discussed their legal options. Improve your finances. Lower your stress levels. Strengthen your relationship. Get more sleep. Things can improve.

Note: Jovan Johnson is a California licensed attorney. The information contained in this article is not a substitute for individualized legal advice. Reading this article does not create an attorney-client privilege. You should consult with an attorney if you need legal advice.

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Also Of interest:

We are a federally designated Debt Relief Agency under the United States Bankruptcy laws. We assist people with finding solutions to their debt problems, including, where appropriate, assisting them with the filing of petitions for relief under the United States Bankruptcy Code.