Garnishment Rules, Limits, Exemptions FAQ

When individuals do not pay their bills, the creditor who holds their debt can get a court order to have their wages or property “garnished.” The creditor, with assistance from the court, can compel the debtor’s employer to withhold a portion of the employee debtor’s paycheck to be paid directly to the creditor.

History of Garnishment Law

The Federal Garnishment Law (Title III of the Consumer Credit Protection Act), was passed in an effort to protect consumers from unfair or harsh collection practices. This law limits the amount an employer can be required to withhold to pay creditor debts, child support and alimony payments. The Federal law also makes it illegal for an employer to fire the employee who is subject to having just one wage garnishment. In addition to federal laws, there are also individual state laws in place to protect individuals from harsh wage garnishment practices by creditors.

How Garnishments Work

Before obtaining a garnishment, a creditor must have a judgment against a debtor. Frequently debtors will be sent collection notices from a collection agency or law firm until eventually a case is filed against the debtor. If the debtor loses the case (or does not show and a valid legal debt is presented to the satisfaction of the court), a judgment is issued in favor of the creditor against the debtor.

If the debtor does not pay the judgment amount within a reasonable time after receiving notices of a judgment awarded, a creditor will usually go to court and ask for a wage garnishment. But before going to court, the creditor must give a notice of garnishment to the debtor before they can collect. The notice must clearly state that they have won the property garnishment and explain what the exemptions to garnishment are. The notice will clearly state what possessions can be take from the debtor and there are certain types of property that cannot be taken and this should also appear in the notice. The debtor should also be informed on what are available options to contest the garnishment. If these steps are followed and the debtor comes to court asking for a garnishment, a court order may be granted and will state how much the debtor owes, what the garnishment amount will be for each period, what the interest rate is and how long the garnishment will last.

If the creditor has won a garnishment judgment against debtor, the creditor can ask the court to order the debtor to appear so you can be questioned on what assets the debtor owns, what bank accounts he/she may have and also inquire about other personal property the debtor may have. Not appearing in court to answer questions after being served can result in dire consequences for a debtor.

After the creditor has the garnishment order, the creditor needs to take the court order to the local law sheriff to have him enforce the order.  The sheriff will serve the employer who will then be subject to garnishing the wages of the employee or seizing property that may be taken per the court order.

Types of Garnishments

There are several types of garnishments. The most common types are:

  • Child Support: When there is failure to pay child support, an order for garnishment may be issued. Wages will then be withheld from the garnished parent’s paycheck each month and paid to the court. The court then pays the custodial parent.
  • Alimony: Any time there is a divorce decree that awards alimony, a court can order a wage garnishment from the employee. The garnishment funds will be paid to the court who will, in turn, pay the recipient spouse.
  • Student Loan: Students who fail to pay back their loans can be subject to wage garnishment from the federal government or other lending institutions. These funds will be issued directly to the creditor each pay date.
  • Taxes: Garnishments to pay federal, state and local taxes may be ordered by the court.
  • Voluntary Wage Assignment: Credit card companies can get a court order to attach a wage garnishment for their unpaid debt.
  • Vehicle: Vehicles can be repossessed when there is a failure to pay the payments for automobile loans. However, repossession is not allowed if the equity in the vehicle is under $2,000 in most states. Lien laws may also take precedent over garnishment laws in some states. Check with you local garnishment attorney for more specific information about garnishments and lien rules that are specific to the state in which you live.

Limitations on Garnishments

Federal law has set maximum percentage amounts that can be deducted for garnishments. State laws may impose lower limits on garnishments than Federal Laws. Creditors are limited and can only take a portion of your disposable income earnings. Certain deductions must be removed first before calculating disposable income and garnishment amount decided. These deductions are not subject to garnishments. These are such things as Social Security benefits, Retirement benefits and Public assistance benefits, etc.

Child Support and Alimony

When the garnishment is for child support or alimony, even veteran’s benefits, worker’s compensation, unemployment, Social Security, military retirement benefits, survivor benefits and disability benefits are allowed. The garnishment maximum limit amount is also higher for child support garnishments than for typical creditors.

Funds not subject to Garnishment

The following funds are not subject to be garnished for debts other than those garnishments that are for child support and alimony payments:

  • Veteran’s benefits
  • Social Security benefits
  • Survivor benefits
  • Supplemental Security Income benefits
  • Railroad Retirement Benefits
  • Military Retirement

There are also various types of state benefits that may not be subject to garnishments. These vary from state to state. Contact a local wage garnishment attorney or the Consumer Protection Bureau for more information pertaining to your particular state.

Any monthly government benefit funds that are deposited into a regular bank account for immediate use for your daily expenses are not subject to garnishment. However, if you use them to make long term investments, they are subject to being garnished.

Filing for Bankruptcy Will Stop Garnishments

If you file for bankruptcy, garnishments for most debts will be immediately stopped by the automatic stay process. However, filing for bankruptcy will not stop garnishments for child support and alimony.

Employers Required to Withhold Pay for Garnishments

Under Federal law, employers are required to cooperate with one garnishment judgment and withhold the ordered amount from the employee’s paycheck each pay period. Employers can not fire their employee because of a garnishment order. There is a $1,000 fine and possible imprisonment up to one year if they violate this law. However, the employer can legally fire their employee if they have more than one garnishment.

Michael M Wechsler, Esq.

Michael M. Wechsler is an experienced attorney, founder of TheLaw.com and former SVP of Zedge.net. He has published hundreds of articles online covering a variety of legal topics and regularly provides free legal advice at The Law Forums.

Michael M Wechsler, Esq. – has written posts on TheLaw.com Guide.


Comments

  1. Kris says

    just a question I only recive SSA and Childsupport if I got a judgement can they garnish those funds. Note: my ssa is in a trustee account as I am not allowed to handle those funds.

  2. Diane says

    If you have a bankruptcy on an employee for a fixed dollar amount would you deduct that from an additional check for profit sharing.

  3. admin says

    Kris – Child Support is a reason to garnish debtors, it doesn’t mean that a creditor can garnish your child support payments.

  4. Sam says

    admin – can’t they garnish Kris’s checking account? The account where she keeps her child support.

  5. Tasha says

    in 2007 I returned my vehicle to Suncoast Credit Union where it was financed because I could not afford the payments anymore. Then I was served by a process server with paper work from the courts a year or more later saying I was being sued.I was recently served with a notice of taking deposition from the credit union, they are asking for all my bank account information, tax returns, pay stubs, assets and they are asking for my spouse’s information also, which I just got married this year, he was never involved in the purchase of the vehicle or on loan. I am not sure if I should give them this information. Also, they sold the vehicle at auction and made almost all the money back that I owe.

  6. clint says

    Can my ex-wife go after my current wifes income or income from my parents for alimony I owe her ?

  7. admin says

    Your wife is separate from you. Your ex-wife cannot pursue money from your wife in the same way she can’t pursue money from any other related person. However, if you put that money in a joint bank account, you may have issues.

  8. brigitte says

    I just got papers stating I would be garnished for a credit card my ex husband took out in my name several years. I do not have an employer due to the fact that the bussiness I was working for closed. I do recieve unemployment and child support, can they garnish my bank account? the only money in there is my unemployment and child support that is direct deposited.

  9. Gemi9 says

    I never received any notification of any sort of the garnishment before it began.
    Nor was I notified of any court date or proceedings against me.
    What can I do?
    This constitutes a tremendous financial hardship for me leaving me with under $800 a month.
    Please someone help

  10. susan says

    My husband just received a summons to appear in court due to some loans we have. my husband is totally disabled, and gets social security, and pension. Can they take our money from us?

  11. Miriam says

    Is there a limit on the number of years creditors can go back to file legal proceedings to recover unpaid debts?

  12. Pinto says

    Hi,
    My debt is from 1997/98, In Kansas. I have since moved to a different state. I have never received any correspondence from creditor or collection agency. They now started garnishing my pay.
    Q1. Is there a statue of limitation on debt collection, I guess this was a jusdgemnt in a small court case.
    Q2. Are they required to notify me before the judgement?
    Q3. If my employer dont have business in KS, are the required to comply with garnishment request?

    Thanks for your help.

  13. admin says

    Best to ask in The Law Forums. In short, you already have a judgment against you. The statute of limitations probably doesn’t apply on the collection because they are already garnishing and a judgment is entered. In many states you have up to 20 years to collect. Chances are your employer is receiving a garnishment issued by a court or marshal. States respect the judgments in other states. They probably filed in your old state, got a judgment, filed in your new state to “perfect” your judgment and begin a garnishment.

  14. admin says

    There are statutes of limitations that cover the amount of time a creditor and those who purchase a debt can sue on that debt.

  15. admin says

    If they are suing you, they will get a judgment and enforce on every dollar you have that can be taken. If you have a defense, I wouldn’t blow off the summons.

  16. says

    I have a question. If you are on medical leave and only receiving half you wages, can your wages be garnished if you receive a judgment?

  17. Marcellus says

    My check is being garnished. I live in another state and I never received notice of garnishment. This debt it 4 year old. How do I get the amount lowered.

  18. admin says

    I’m guessing that a portion of your wages might be subject to garnishment. You’ll get more replies by posting a question at the .

  19. admin says

    You might not be able to get the amount lowered. On what grounds? You’ll get more replies by posting a question at the .

  20. Amy says

    I returned a car to our state employees credit union because the engine blew up and I was on unpaid LOA and could not afford to pay the payments and the repair bills. I also work for the state and am now back to work. When I returned the car, I did it because I called them and explained my situation honestly and did what they told me to do. The car blue books for $7500, I owe $8700 and they sold the car at auction for $1000. Now that I am back to work, I called to make arrangements to resume payments on the debt in an attempt to repair my reputation and credit. They agreed to a payment agreement and told me I did not need to show up to the summons date as the repossession filing was just a formality and they were working with their attorneys to make sure the case was dropped upon delivery of the car to them. I was suppossed to make my first payment with this months paycheck 1.29 (tomorrow) and on 1/22 they filed a garnishment against my wages and notified my employer. Because I work for the state Employment Securities Commission I believe I will be fired for this, regardless if it is illegal for a private employer to fire an employee for garnishment, is is different for a state employee? Also, I am not sure any of this is right, and I am wondering if it is worth it to have my attorney move to vacate the judgment based on the fact the credit union misled me and told me not to show for the hearing, agreed to a payment arrangement and then filed the garnishment anyway? This is the first time anything like this has ever happened to me and I am facing the fact that my life could be ruined, I could lose my job and not be able to support my family because of a car that broke down beyond repair and I had no other options, plus I was lied to. I just returned the car in October 2009, and the default judgment was awarded in 12/2009, is this considered a reasonable amount of time they have given me to work this out before they garnished my wages? This seems very aggressive to me. I have been honest with them to a fault, and have done exactly what THEY told me to do, including missing the hearing, which now feels like a trap. What is my legal right here, or do I have one – am I just worthless now, like a felon with no rights because of one bad situation that was not entirely my fault. I paid $2000 on my financed loan for a warranty that did not help me when I needed it on top of all this. PS, I live in and work for the State of Oklahoma.

  21. says

    i retired from gm with 37.4 years within a week after i retired i had a stroke was put on disability,back dated to my stroke gm has garnished by pension to reclam my social socity.i received while receiveng i receive 589 retirement untile its repaid. they say its legal i dont beleave them. they made me sighn papers i wouldnt sue them or union before retiring. do i have any recorse

  22. Arnold Holstrom says

    I recently had my social security disability pay garnished as soon as it hit my checking account. about 2 years ago, I got a call from the collection agengy saying I owed approximately $1,000.00 in delinquent daycare. I had paid the daycare the full amount, less late fees, and wrote “PAID IN FULL” on the memo area of the check. I sent copies of the cancelled checks to the collection agency and figured that was that. 2 years later they garnished my SSD. I live in Washington State, Island County. They guarnished just over $2,000.00. What can I do? And how can they legally garnish anything without giving me some kind of notice to when a court hearing was?

  23. Connie says

    Question. My bank has allowed a credit card to take money out of my checking account leaving me over $2800 in the red. Just to let you know the card was initially one that my ex used in place of his paycheck to pay house bills when he was hiding his drug addiction. The only income my children and I have is SSI and TANF since I have a child who is disabled and requires my constant care. Further more they gave me no notice of this so I could get this matter taken care of before it was done. So my children could be virtually living in the dark. And in the cold.
    If I have read the site correctly SSI and TANF are not garnishable. So how does this happen? And what do I do? Besides change banks. With all the securitys I have to go thru to get to my account why dont they have to go thru the same things.

  24. Sara says

    I am currently being garnished from a debit collector. As of right now they have already garnished more than half the amount owed. I am getting garnished because I failed to make the payments previously arrannged for me to make. They sent me a thing to appear in court at the end of april. THey sent this to me in Febuary. They started garnishing me the beginning of March. If I am not contesting this garnishment, do I need to appear. I called the people garnishing me and they said that as long as they are getting their money, thats all they are after. They also said that this court date would be to set up the garnishment. But like I said I am more than half paid already. I just don’t want to get a a failure to appear. Nor do I want to take off work. Do, I need to appear? Thanks

  25. Pam says

    4 1/2 years ago, my husband received a garnishment for a repossessed car. He refused to pay the debt, and went into self employment. He pays his taxes and is above board in that respect, but refuses to pay this particular thing.

    We haven’t heard anything from the attorneys office for 3 years. Today, a call came in from a bill collector, representing the attorney. On the message it says there is a bench warrant for my husband and that if he will contact them, they will arrange for a reasonable settlement on this issue.

    First of all, is it legal to say such things on a home answering machine, that has a phone number not listed in my husbands name, but only by my initials. Second, is it true that a bench warrant can be issued in the matter, when a debt is civil? And, if there’s a bench warrant, then how can this debt be settled if my husband calls them?

  26. Jane says

    I thought you were suppose to be noticfied if you were going to be garnished or not. They took the money out of my account and didnt tell me anything!!!!

  27. TheLaw Staff says

    Jane – your agreement with your bank will tell you what they can and cannot do. Were you sent any information with regard to the garnishment? How did you know it was a garnishment?

  28. JL says

    I received a wage garnishment from a judgement from a former landlord.
    I NEVER received any information regarding a hearing for wage garnishment.

    The landlord was also supposed to deduct the security deposit and he did not.

    How can I stop the judgement to have the total amount adjusted so I can pay it off?

  29. says

    My wife bought a 2004 cavalier in 2005 before we were together and it was in her and her brothers name when i got with my wife i put the car in my name and took over the payments i started getting behind so i borrowed money from my mother and paid the late amount well the next month i owed again an outlandish amount and this happened three times so i took the car to them they sold it and we paid 13000 on it said we still owed 12000 they sold it for 2000 and now are trying to get me to pay 9000 dollars for a car that i will never see again how can they do that?

  30. Michael says

    Garnishment law varies by your state. In some states the first several thousand dollars are not subject to garnishment and in some cases up to $25,000.