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An HR Glossary for HR Terms

Glossary of Human Resources Management and Employee Benefit Terms

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Garnishment

What Is Garnishment?

Garnishment, or wage garnishment, refers to money being legally withheld from your paycheck and given to another party. This is usually done as a method to pay off overdue debts including unpaid taxes, defaulted student loans, alimony, child support payments, and various other monetary fines.

What Does It Mean to Be Garnished?

To be garnished means money was withheld from your paycheck. In a typical garnishing case, there are three parties: the garnishor (the creditor who takes money), the garnishee (the one who receives money), and the debtor. A garnishor is usually a plaintiff who represents the garnishee or their organization. They will receive a court order and inform the debtor’s employer that their paycheck needs to be garnished. 

Can You Stop a Garnishment Once It Starts?

In order to stop a wage garnishment from continuing, the debtor can either object to it in court, continue to negotiate it with the creditor, or file for bankruptcy.

Objecting the Garnishment

Any objections the debtor has with the garnishment should be sent to a court in writing. Common reasons for objections include:

  • The creditor is taking too much money.

  • The creditor did not follow proper legal procedures.

  • The creditor was already paid.

Continuing Negotiations

While garnishments often come after failed negotiations, the debtor can usually continue to negotiate with the creditor even after garnishment has begun. This option is particularly viable when circumstances have changed. For example, if the debtor receives an income tax refund and can now pay a large portion of the debt, they could negotiate with the creditor to halt the garnishing and pay a lump sum.

Filing for Bankruptcy

Filing for bankruptcy will put a halt on most wage garnishments, but this option may put certain property items on the line. However, there are ways to protect belongings. Each state has a list of exemptions that can protect property needed for employment, such as clothing or means of transportation.

What Is the Maximum Amount That Can Be Garnished from a Paycheck?

The maximum amount that can be garnished from a paycheck depends on the situation. Debts outside of child support, overdue taxes, and student loans require a plaintiff to receive a court order. These cannot exceed 25 percent of the debtor’s disposable income.

More money can be taken for child support and alimony cases. If the debtor is supporting a spouse or a child who would not be receiving the child support or alimony money, 50 percent of their disposable income can be taken. If they are not supporting another spouse or child, 60 percent can be taken.

Only 15 percent of a debtor’s wage can be garnished for debts related to student loans.

What States Allow Garnishment of Wages?

Currently, four states have limitations on wage garnishment: Pennsylvania, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Texas. Though these limitations largely apply to credit card debts, bank loans, and medical debts, these states still allow garnishing for debts relating to taxes, child support, federal student loans, and court-ordered fines.

How Long Does It Take to Garnish Wages?

After the court order is finalized, the garnishment can begin immediately, though the exact time frame varies in different cases. For example, a judge may require the creditor to send a notice of the debt collection to the debtor. Then the creditor will have to wait for a specific amount of time, such as two weeks, before they can initiate the garnishing.

What Is a Garnishment Fee?

Employers who have to collect their employee’s garnished wages can charge a small fee to either the creditor or the employee. These fees are usually nominal, ranging from one to ten dollars per garnished paycheck, but some states allow for a percentage-based fee. States give different rights and protections to employees whose wages are garnished.

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