What is Wage Garnishment?

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, wage garnishment is “a legal procedure in which a person’s earnings are required by court order to  be withheld by an employer for the payment of debt.” Essentially, if you are having your wages garnished, then your employer is required by law to keep a portion of your paycheck in order to pay off debts. This is different than your employer underpaying you or committing another type of labor law violation, this is beyond the employer’s control. 

As you can imagine, having your wages garnished can significantly change your financial situation, and seems like an extreme debt repayment measure. So, when is  wage garnishment deemed necessary? 

It is important to note that there is a limit to the wages that can be garnished, depending on the state you are in. There is a limit of 25% of disposable income that can be garnished for California residents. 

Which Debts Can Be Garnished? 

Since debt repayment is the primary reason for wage garnishment, there are a variety of debts that utilize this form of payment. Some common reasons include: 

  • Child support 
  • Consumer debts, like credit card debt, etc. 
  • Student loans 

While debts like child support, the quantity is often negotiated by a family law lawyer like the team at Schoenberg Family Law Group, consumer debts and student loans are generally fixed amounts of money. 

Can Government Benefits Be Garnished? 

Many people that receive federal benefits depend on that money to survive, so the idea of those wages being garnished can be damaging. Some common forms of government benefits are:

  • Veteran’s benefits 
  • Civil service and federal retirement benefits 
  • Disability benefits 
  • WIC Unemployment
  • Federal student aid 
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI) 

However, these benefits are exempt from wage garnishment if they are directly deposited to your bank account. If you have any concern about protecting these wages from garnishment, you may have to go to court to resolve it. 

In very rare cases, some of these benefits may be garnished if your debt is related to federal taxes, federal student loans, or child support. 

Is There Anything You Can Do To Stop Wage Garnishment? 

If your wages are being garnished and you need to alter the arrangement, there are options to stop wage garnishment, depending on what state you live in and the type of debt in question. 

  1. If you have credit debt, you can often negotiate a separate deal directly with the creditor. This can look like a payment plan, negotiate a debt settlement, or just a smaller wage garnishment. 
  2. Filing an exemption: in states like California, you can file a claim of exemption to stop or lower the amount of garnishment due to financial or personal situations. Filing an exemption can be helpful in child support cases, and with the help from an experienced family law attorney like the team at Haug, Farrar & Franco. 
  3. Filing for bankruptcy: as a last resort, filing for bankruptcy can help you get out from under a mountain of debt. This option can be extreme though, and definitely takes a toll on your life for years to come. We recommend consulting with a financial professional or lawyer before making such a permanent decision.