Wage Garnishment: Your Legal Rights

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 15, 2021

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If you owe a debt that has gone into collections, the debt collector may choose garnishment of your wages in order to get what they are owed. Being subjected to wage garnishment is a stressful situation. Most people struggling with this type of debt don’t have enough to pay daily expenses as it is, so losing a chunk of their paychecks isn’t a comforting prospect.

If you’re faced with a wage garnishment, you’re probably wondering what rights you might have and what you should expect. The following are a few of the most common questions asked about wage garnishment, along with some answers that should help you better understand what you’re up against.

Q: Do I have any recourse to stop a wage garnishment before it begins?

A: A wage garnishment occurs as the result of a lawsuit having been filed against you, and the debt owner having won a judgment. In other words, in order for your case to have reached the level of a wage garnishment, you have likely ignored court summons and other legal notifications that came your way. Ignoring court notices is one of the worst things you can do, as it will never help you, and can only hurt you. You do, in fact, have many options to stop a wage garnishment, from bankruptcy to payment plans, but you simply cannot let the case go to court without speaking up, attending the hearing, and attempting to reach a resolution. Doing nothing is essentially agreeing to the garnishment that will follow.

Q: I don’t make enough to live on, and/or I have income that puts me below the poverty line. Can my wages still be garnished?

A: The short answer is yes, they can be; but the long answer is that the amount you make will factor into how much of your wages can be taken for garnishment. Extremely low income may exempt you from any garnishment, while slightly higher (but still “low” salaries) will only be subject to, for example, a 10% garnishment. Numbers change every year, so be sure to research current information if this is a particular concern in your case.

Q: The debt collector disclosed the entire situation to my employer. Isn’t this a violation of my privacy?

A: Actually, it’s not; your employer needs to know because he or she is the one who has to put the garnishment into effect, withdrawing the required amount from your paycheck each month. Many people find this an embarrassing and troublesome situation. However, it may comfort you to know that you cannot be fired from your job for a single wage garnishment, although you technically can be fired if subsequent garnishments follow.

Q: Can a lawyer help me avoid wage garnishments?

A: Wage garnishment situations are difficult for everyone involved. Do what you need to do to prevent the garnishment from taking place, by responding to court summons and attempting to work out payment plans with your creditors. A lawyer can help you if you are concerned about how to handle these court proceedings. Also, a bankruptcy attorney can show you possible alternatives to wage garnishment. If all else fails and a wage garnishment is placed upon you, an attorney can help you to understand the garnishment and to explore any options you may have for lowering the amount garnished or for lifting the wage garnishment order.

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