Wage garnishment is a legal process that allows creditors to take a portion of your wages to repay a debt. It is a stressful and frustrating experience, especially if you are already struggling to make ends meet. However, there are steps you can take to stop wage garnishments and protect your income. In this guide, we’ll explore some of the ways you can prevent or stop wage garnishments and regain control of your finances.
Understanding Wage Garnishment
The first step to stop wage garnishments is understanding how they work. Wage garnishment is a legal process where a creditor collects a debt from a portion of an individual’s wages by taking those amounts directly from the employer. When a wage garnishment is in effect, a certain amount of money is deducted from the individual’s paycheck and sent to the creditor to repay the debt.
Wage garnishment is initiated through a legal process that starts with a court order or judgment. When a creditor obtains a judgment against a debtor, they can then seek to collect the debt through a wage garnishment. The creditor will first need to file a legal action against the debtor. In Utah lawsuits of this type occur either in small claims court or the Utah District Court. If the court finds in favor of the creditor and issues a judgment, the creditor can then request a wage garnishment order from the court.
The creditor then serves the wage garnishment order on the debtor’s employer. It is then required by law to withhold a certain percentage of the debtor’s wages and send it directly to the creditor. The exact amount that can be garnished from the debtor’s wages is determined by state and federal law and can vary depending on factors such as the type of debt, the debtor’s income, and the number of dependents the debtor has.
How much can be garnished from your paycheck?
The amount that can be garnished from an individual’s wages depends on several factors, including the type of debt, the state where the individual lives and works, and the individual’s income and expenses. Generally, federal law sets a maximum amount that can be garnished from an individual’s wages, which is the lesser of:
- 25% of the debtor’s disposable earnings, or
- the amount by which the debtor’s disposable earnings exceed 30 times the federal minimum wage.
For example, if the federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, and an individual’s disposable earnings are $500 per week, the maximum amount that could be garnished would be $125 per week (25% of $500). However, if the individual’s disposable earnings were only $200 per week, the maximum amount that could be garnished would be $10 per week (the amount by which $200 exceeds 30 times the federal minimum wage).
Generally, if you only make $942.50 a month or less the creditor is not allowed to garnish your wages as you simply do not have enough disposable income.
It’s important to note that some types of debt, such as child support, student loans, or tax debts, may have different rules regarding wage garnishment. Additionally, some states have their own laws regarding wage garnishment that may allow for a lower maximum amount to be garnished. It’s important for individuals to understand the specific rules and regulations that apply in their situation in order to determine how much can be garnished from their wages.
Utah allows wage garnishment of the 25% maximum allowed under federal law.
How to stop a wage garnishment
File an Exemption
Certain types of income are generally exempt from wage garnishment. That means that income cannot be taken to satisfy a debt through wage garnishment. The specific rules regarding exemptions can vary depending on your state as well as the type of debt being garnished.
Some common types of income that may be exempt from wage garnishment include:
- Social Security and disability benefits: Social Security retirement, disability, and survivor benefits are generally exempt from wage garnishment.
- Veterans’ benefits: Veterans’ benefits, including disability compensation and pension payments, are typically exempt from wage garnishment.
- Public assistance: Public assistance benefits, such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), are usually exempt from wage garnishment.
- Retirement benefits: Many types of retirement benefits, such as 401(k) plans, IRAs, and pensions, may be exempt from wage garnishment.
- Child support payments: If the wage garnishment is for unpaid child support, some states may exempt a certain amount of the debtor’s income from garnishment.
The process for filing for an exemption from wage garnishments varies by court. In Utah you file a Reply and Request for hearing within 20 days of receiving notice of the wage garnishment. In the Reply and Request for Hearing you explain to the court exactly why the income is exempt. The court will then make a determination that is binding on the parties so be thorough. Don’t leave out any critical information or you could lose your exemption.
Pay off the debt
Most websites will tell you to negotiate the debt to stop a wage garnishment. That is a possibility but not reality for most people. Once a debt reaches the point of having your wages garnished there is little possibility of negating with the creditor. The only way a creditor will negotiate to stop a wage garnishment is to pay the debt in full. In most cases that is not really an option.
File Bankruptcy to stop wage garnishments
If all else fails, filing for bankruptcy is an option to stop wage garnishment. Once you file for bankruptcy, an automatic stay goes into effect, which puts a stop to wage garnishment and other collection actions. All collection garnishments, phone calls, and letters from creditors and debt collectors must stop once the automatic bankruptcy stay goes into effect.
Bankruptcy is a last resort as it has long-term impacts on your credit score and financial future. Before making the decision to file for bankruptcy, it’s a good idea to explore other options for managing your debt. Try negotiating a payment plan with your creditors or working with an attorney to explore other options.
Find debt collection abuses
If any debt collection abuse occurred in the collection process those abuses might help stop or offset the wage garnishments. For example, if the debt collector attempted to garnish any wages that are exempt you may have a way to fight back and stop the wage garnishment. The same is true if the collection agency garnishes your wages while you are currently paying the debt under an agreed upon payment plan.
Do you have a creditor suing you or garnishing your wages?
We can stop unjust or illegal wage garnishments. Don’t lose precious income for no reason. Let our attorneys review your situation to see if we can stop the garnishment.
How to prevent a wage garnishment
The best way to stop a wage garnishment is to prevent it before it occurs. That requires asserting proper affirmative defenses when the case begins. Here are some common affirmative defenses to raise in a typical debt collection lawsuit:
- Statute of limitations: Debt collectors may sue for a certain period of time after the debt becomes delinquent. When the statute of limitations expires the debt is no longer legally enforceable.
- Lack of standing: The plaintiff in a debt collection lawsuit must be the legal owner of the debt in question. If they cannot prove ownership, they may lack standing to sue.
- Failure to state a claim: The plaintiff must state a legally viable claim in their complaint. If they fail to do so, the case may be dismissed.
- Improper service of process: Debt collectors must serve the defendant with proper notice of the lawsuit. If they fail to do so, the case may be dismissed.
- Lack of consideration: If the plaintiff did not give the defendant anything of value in exchange for the alleged debt the case could be dismissed.
- Payment or settlement: If the defendant already paid the debt or reached a settlement with the plaintiff, the debt may no longer be legally enforceable. This is also sometimes referred to as accord and satisfaction.
- Breach of contract: If the plaintiff breached the terms of the original contract, they may be prohibited from collecting the debt.
- Unclean hands: If the plaintiff engaged in wrongful conduct such as engaging in deceptive or unfair practices, the case may be dismissed.
- Fraud: If the plaintiff obtained the debt through fraudulent means, the case may be dismissed.
Read our previous article for a more comprehensive discussion on these and other affirmative defenses.
Should I consider debt consolidation to stop wage garnishments?
In most cases debt consolidation is a mistake. Even when used to stop wage garnishments there are better options. In some cases debt consolidation is an outright scam. Here are several reasons why you should avoid debt relief companies:
- High-interest rates: Debt consolidation loans may come with high-interest rates. That increases the amount of money you owe over time.
- Fees: Debt consolidation companies may charge fees, such as origination fees or closing costs. Those fees add to the total amount you owe.
- Long-term debt: Consolidating your debts into one loan may extend the repayment period, leading to a longer-term debt. That can be more difficult to pay off.
- Risk of losing collateral: Some consolidation loans may require collateral, such as your home, car, or other assets. That puts you at risk of losing them if you are unable to make your payments.
- Risk of falling back into debt: Consolidating your debts does not address the underlying spending habits that led to the debt in the first place. Without changing your spending habits, you may fall back into debt again.
Instead of consolidating your debt to stop wage garnishments, consider other options such as creating a budget, negotiating with creditors, or seeking the assistance of an attorney. These options can help you pay off your debts without taking on additional debt or putting your assets at risk.
Also, remember that most debt consolidation companies are scams. They take your money and combine it into one amount. They then selectively pay certain debts while letting others fall delinquent. Of course, they also take a hefty fee in the meantime. The damage to your credit and your overall financial health cannot be overstated. Avoid debt relief services at all costs.
Should I use a debt relief company?
No, you should not use debt relief companies. Debt relief companies are mostly scams. Even those that are more legitimate than others still take your money for themselves rather than using it to pay down your debt.
Debt relief companies typically work by negotiating with your creditors to reduce the amount you owe, or to set up a payment plan that is more manageable for you. They may also offer credit counseling services or other forms of financial advice to help you get back on track.
One common form of debt relief is debt settlement. This is where the debt relief company negotiates with your creditors to settle your debts for a lower amount than you owe. Debt settlements by others have a substantial negative impact on your credit score and may result in tax consequences. These companies may or may not stop wage garnishments depending on who you hire.
There are also numerous scams and unscrupulous companies in this industry. Some debt relief companies charge high fees and make false promises about their ability to help you resolve your debts. Even those that most would not consider scams, we do. These companies are simply redirecting your hard-earned money into their pockets instead of using that money to pay your debts.
Should I use a credit repair company?
No, you should never use a credit repair company to defend yourself from debt or to stop wage garnishments. Credit repair is not a legal service and does nothing to defend you against the underlying debt. Credit repair only deals with the credit reporting aspect of the issue. If any credit repair company tells you its services somehow stop or clear up a wage garnishment, they are scamming you. Even the most popular credit repair companies do nothing to stop the underlying problem.
Rebuilding your income and credit after a wage garnishment
Experiencing a wage garnishment can be a challenging financial setback, but it is possible to rebuild your income after you stop the garnishment. Indeed, the end of a wage garnishment presents a tremendous opportunity to savvy consumers. Here are some steps you can take to get back on track:
- Budgeting: Create a budget and stick to it. Start by listing your monthly income and expenses, including any outstanding debts. Evaluate where you can cut back on spending and prioritize your bills.
- Increase your income: Consider taking on a part-time job or freelance work to increase your income. Look for opportunities in your field or consider developing a new skill that can lead to higher paying jobs.
- Pay off debts: Focus on paying off any remaining debts to improve your credit score and financial stability. Start by paying off debts with the highest interest rates first. You can then snowball your payments as each debt is repaid.
- Rebuild credit: Once you have paid off your debts, begin to rebuild your credit by applying for a secured credit card or a credit builder loan. Make sure to make your payments on time and keep your credit utilization low.
- Seek financial advice: Consider speaking with a financial advisor or credit counselor who can help you create a personalized plan to rebuild your income and finances.
- Stop using credit: It may sound obvious but it also helps rebuild your financial future to stop using credit. Avoiding poor financial choices is hard but living by one simple rule can make you wealthy if applied judiciously.
Remember that rebuilding your income after a wage garnishment will take time and effort. Stay focused, and keep working towards your financial goals.
Bonus tip on rebuilding your income and credit after a wage garnishment
Grow Your Savings and Investments
If 25% of your wages was being garnished for a while and you have grown accustomed to life without that income, consider redirecting the same amount to savings or investments when the garnishment ends. Don’t fall into the trap of spending everything you earn. It takes discipline but putting 25% of your income into the proper investments will result in a far better retirement than spending that income instead.
Wage garnishment can be a difficult and stressful experience, but there are steps you can take to stop wage garnishments and protect your income. By understanding how wage garnishment works, negotiating a repayment plan, challenging the garnishment, or filing for bankruptcy, you can regain control of your finances and move toward a brighter financial future. Remember, the key to stopping wage garnishment is to take action early and seek help if you need it.