For many who find themselves in a financial crisis, the potential of wage garnishment may arise. Wage garnishment occurs when an individual owes money to a creditor, and the court orders their employer to withhold a portion of their paycheck to apply towards resolving the debt. Child support, student loans, and consumer debts represent the most common reasons for wage garnishment.
Did You Know? A 2016 report by ADP Research Institute revealed that 7% of employees had wages garnished, but in the 35 to 44 age demographic, the percentage rose to 10.2%. Therefore it is more commonplace than many people think.
Garnishment occurs when a creditor successfully sues for nonpayment of a debt. A creditor may also compel garnishment without a court order in cases of child support, back taxes, or student loan balance. The garnishment typically remains in place until the debt is paid, including any applicable court fees and interest.
Your Rights Regarding Wage Garnishment
Those who are the target of a wage garnishment suit do have rights, but the onus is on that individual to understand and exercise them.
- There must be a legal notification of the garnishment.
- The individual may file a dispute if the garnishment notice has erroneous information.
- Individuals can file a dispute if they claim they do not owe the debt.
- Social Security and veterans benefits are typically exempt from garnishment as income.
- The individual can’t be fired for having one wage garnishment, but that protection may be revoked if multiple garnishments are applied.
If You Have a Garnishment Judgment Against You
Read the judgment carefully to ensure that all information is correct, that the debt listed is valid, and that the reported balance is accurate. The money will be taken from your paycheck or bank account if everything is correct. If you haven’t yet done so, consulting an attorney to determine what’s best for you is a smart move.
After a judgment, you have three primary options:
- Negotiate an alternate deal: Many people overlook the most obvious way to negotiate a more affordable payment – simply contact the creditor. Many creditors will entertain that conversation and work with you to devise a solution. Be sure to understand what you can realistically afford before you call.
- Challenge the judgment: If you believe the garnishment judgment is inaccurate, will cause harm, or is procedurally improper, you can object in court. Many courts only allow five days to contest the ruling, so prepare and move quickly.
- Accept the garnishment judgment: By accepting the garnishment ruling, you will be responsible for paying off the garnishment in stated installments or making a one-time payment.
Many feel embarrassed or ashamed because their employer is aware of the garnishment. However, it is essential to remember that your employer (or the HR department) likely has seen this before. Being upfront and honest is always the best way to navigate the situation.
Consequences of Wage Garnishment
A garnishment judgment will remain on a credit report for up to seven years, but just as with bankruptcy, you can begin building your credit again quickly.
If Wage Garnishment is Not Possible
While your creditors may seek wage garnishment, you may not be able to move forward with that option – while paying your other essential bills. If you don’t wish to be subject to garnishment, it may be time to speak with a bankruptcy attorney. While filing for bankruptcy is not the solution for everyone, it does represent a potential solution to get you back on solid financial footing without losing any of your income.
Richard V. Ellis is a Sarasota bankruptcy attorney who has helped hundreds of area residents find the right solution to their financial problems. Call today to set up an initial consultation to determine your options and potential paths forward.