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Wage Garnishments

Can a Creditor or Debt Collector Garnish My Wages?

Whether a creditor can or cannot garnish your wages is governed by the laws in your state.  Each state has enacted laws setting forth which property is protected from creditors and which property can be seized by creditors.  A few states do not allow any wage garnishment whatsoever, but even those states that do regulate how much can be garnished from a person's wages in order to allow that person to have something left over to live on, although most people have a hard time living on what is left over after their wages are garnished.  There is also federal legislation regulating wage garnishments Your particular state might follow the federal guidelines.  Because state laws are always changing, to get the most accurate information, you should google your state's laws regarding wage garnishments.

Note that wage garnishment laws do not usually apply when you owe money to the state or federal government.  Therefore, even if you live in a state that prohibits wage garnishments, such as Texas, you can have your wages garnished to repay a student loan or child support. In fact, almost all states vigorously pursue money owed to them in the form of student loan repayments, taxes or child support.

Credit card companies, hospitals, debt collectors and others will also seek a wage garnishment to recover debt provided that it is legal for them to do so in the state where the debtor resides and the debt is sufficient enough to warrant a wage garnishment. 

A good way to avoid most wage garnishments (except those regarding taxes, alimony, student loans and child support) is to file bankruptcy.  Filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy will immediately stop a wage garnishment in progress and cancel out any existing wage garnishments, provided that the court allows that debt to be discharged.

What is a Wage Garnishment?

A writ of garnishment, or wage garnishment as it is commonly known, is an order granted to a creditor by a court ordering an employer to garnish the wages of the defendant by X amount each paycheck.  Such a writ is only granted after the plaintiff (a creditor) has filed suit to recover a debt and received a favorable judgment.  It cannot be granted without a judgment, as every American is guaranteed the right to due process.  So, unless your creditor has sued you and won, do not worry about your employer receiving such a writ.

A wage garnishment not only states the amount to be garnished from a person's paycheck; it also provides instructions as to where the amount taken from the paycheck should be sent.  If your employer receives a writ of garnishment,  he has no choice but to do as he has been instructed no matter how much he may not want to.  An employer who refuses to do as the writ orders could face serious legal trouble himself since he is disobeying the order of a court of law.  Therefore, pleading with your employer to ignore the writ and not garnish your wages is a waste of time.

How to Avoid a Wage Garnishment

The best way to avoid having your wages garnished is to avoid being sued in the first place. So many consumers go into denial mode when they can't pay their debt and try to hide from and avoid their creditors by ignoring correspondence and phone calls.  This is absolutely the worst thing you can do.  Just contacting your creditors, telling them why you can't repay your debt, offering a reduced monthly payment and keeping them informed of your financial progress, is a much more effective way to handle debt problems and avoid writs of garnishment and -- if you deal openly and honestly with your creditors you won't jump every time the phone rings or lay awake at night worrying. 

Creditors spend a fortune on collection costs and are motivated to avoid lawsuits, therefore, both you and your creditor benefit by communicating and working out an alternate repayment plan or negotiated settlement to keep you from being sued.

Paying Off A Wage Garnishment

If you lose in court or don't contest the wage garnishment, you can either pay it off in full or just wait until the day comes when your paycheck is no longer garnished. Regardless of the method you choose, make sure you obtain documentation from the creditor once the judgment has been paid in full so that you have proof you paid the debt. You might need this proof in the future if you want to obtain a loan or credit.

How to Stop a Wage Garnishment

Work out some sort of agreement very quickly with the other party.  If you can't do that then perhaps your only option is to file bankruptcy very quickly.  Filing bankruptcy legally puts a stop of wage garnishments. 

Filing bankruptcy stops all of your creditors' collection activities which is why it is often used as a weapon to avoid judgments.

Can A Wage Garnishment Be Reversed?

Once a wage garnishment has been awarded, it is very hard to undo, but not impossible, particularly if the garnishment is eating up too much of your living expenses.  If your wages are being garnished and you can't even afford basic necessities of living, then you can file a "Claim of Exemption" form with the court that issued the writ.  You can obtain this form at your local courthouse.  When you have your day in court, you should bring documented proof of your income and monthly living expenses, such as mortgage or rent payments, utilities, groceries, etc., in order to convince the judge to set aside the wage garnishment.

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