Creditors are ruthless and will do anything they can to chase you down and suck up every last penny you have. This includes garnishing your hard-earned wages. But you have rights. Do you know what they are?
What is Wage Garnishment?
“Wage garnishment is a tool used by creditors to collect their debts through the court system,” Upsolve.org explains. “When a creditor has not been repaid, they can initiate a lawsuit against the borrower. If the creditor wins the lawsuit, or obtains a judgment by default, they can ask the court to order a garnishment of the borrower’s wages.”
Once a garnishment order has been put in place, the creditor can then take the proper paperwork to the sheriff, who will then deliver papers to the debtor’s employer/source of income. From that point, the employer is legally required to designate a portion of each paycheck to the creditor.
Wage garnishment is sort of a last-ditch effort for a creditor who is seeking repayment on money they lent. Garnishment usually happens when the debtor doesn’t appear in court and is uncooperative with other demands and options for repayment.
Millions of Americans have their wages garnished each year. And while it’s fairly common, it can be prevented.
How to Prevent Wage Garnishment
If you’re facing the possibility of wage garnishment, or you’re already experiencing wage garnishment, the best course of action is to contact an attorney to help you fight back.
Each state is unique, so you’ll want to hire a local attorney. (Florida, for example, has very complicated wage garnishment requirements and procedures – so if you’re located in the Sunshine State, you’d want to hire a Florida garnishment attorney.)
But this is supposed to be an educational article to help you understand your options for halting wage garnishment, so in light of this, here are a few specific ways you can prevent wage garnishment and move on with your life:
1. Negotiate With Creditors
The first key is to prevent wage garnishment from happening in the first place. As mentioned, garnishment is a last-ditch effort. It’s not something that’s convenient, preferred, or particularly cost-effective. So if you want to avoid garnishment, you just have to be a little cooperative.
The best strategy is to negotiate an attractive repayment plan with your creditor. Most creditors will gladly accept, so long as you don’t get an attitude and you show a genuine desire to pay them back in full.
A typical repayment plan requires you to commit a certain dollar amount being paid automatically from your bank account every two weeks or once a month (depending on your financial circumstances).
If you can’t set up a repayment plan – or you fail to do so prior to the garnishment order being issued, you always have the right to petition the court for an exemption. The chances of getting an exemption aren’t exactly high, but certain extenuating circumstances could protect you. (The judge will consider factors like rent amount, family size, dependents, and household income.)
2. Challenge Garnishment
You can challenge a garnishment after it’s been issued through an official objection. One common objection occurs when 25 percent or more of your disposable earnings (meaning gross pay minus taxes and required deductions) are being siphoned out.
You can also challenge the garnishment on the grounds that the creditor failed to follow the proper garnishment procedure. If this is the case, the court can terminate the order.
3. File for Bankruptcy
While far from ideal, and totally unnecessary in many instances, you could technically file for bankruptcy to escape the wage garnishment.
Bankruptcy acts as a safeguard against your income, even while the case is pending in court. If nothing else, this will buy you a little bit of time to get your ducks in a row.
(It’s important to note that bankruptcy can’t dismiss debts like owed alimony, delinquent child support, student loan debt, and federal or state tax obligations.)
Know Your Rights, Protect Your Money
Even if you legally owe creditors money for debt that you willingly embraced, you have rights under state and federal laws. Don’t let an abusive collector come after you and wring you dry. Know your rights and protect your money.