Wage garnishment occurs when a collection company or creditor starts legal action to take some of your wages, money held in your bank account, or other assets you own. When creditors are successful with their case, they will contact your employer and ask them to deduct a certain amount of money from your check every week and to forward it to the creditor.
Garnishments are extremely upsetting for borrowers. They typically happen very suddenly and, due to the fact that the writ of garnishment is ongoing, the garnishment may continue until the entire debt is paid. Although this sounds overwhelming, there is good news: there are many steps you can take to stop a wage garnishment or to prevent it from happening in the first place.
Notification of Wage Garnishment
In many cases, you will know that a creditor or debt collector is attempting to garnish your wages because they must obtain a court order that allows them to collect the debt.
However, there are some instances in which you may not know until your wages are already being garnished. These include unpaid income taxes, student loans, and unpaid child support obligations.
Once a creditor has obtained a judgment to garnish your wages, they have 20 years to do so. This is substantially longer than the statute of limitations on collecting debt, which is only five years.
Exemptions that May Stop a Wage Garnishment
If the creditor or your employer has notified you of a wage garnishment, it is important to act as quickly as possible. The time from the judgment until your wages are garnished may be very short. It is important to speak to a debt defense lawyer who can advise on whether you qualify for an exemption.
Qualifying as a head of household may mean that you are legally entitled to this exemption. To qualify under this exemption, you must show that you provide at least 50 percent of the living expenses for a dependent. Contrary to what many people think, dependents do not only include children, but also aunts, uncles, parents, and even former spouses who are receiving alimony. It is important to note that the head of household exemption only applies to wages, so it may not protect tax refunds from being garnished.
Other exemptions may also protect you from wage garnishment. Creditors and debt collectors, for example, are not allowed to garnish certain benefits including workers’ compensation, veterans’ benefits, life insurance benefits, disability benefits, and Social Security benefits.
Vacating a Judgment
In some instances, you may also be able to vacate a judgment. The most common reason for doing this is when the creditor or debt collector did not properly serve you with the lawsuit. If you can get the judgment vacated, the court order allowing the creditor or debt collector to garnish your wages is considered null and void. The courts will not always vacate a judgment, so it is always important to speak with a debt defense lawyer to determine if this is an option.
Incorrect Garnishment Judgment
You can also contest the garnishment judgment if you believe that it was made in error. This may be possible when you have already paid the debt, if the debt never belonged to you, or if the debt was included in a bankruptcy case and then discharged through the bankruptcy court.
For some who are struggling with a great amount of debt, filing for bankruptcy may be an option. Immediately after you file for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy, the judge will grant you an automatic stay. An automatic stay means that no creditors or debt collectors can contact you in an effort to recover the debt. Although this protects you no matter the type of bankruptcy you file, what happens after your bankruptcy case is over will.
If you file Chapter 7 bankruptcy and are successful, there is a good chance that the debt pertaining to a wage garnishment will be discharged and you will no longer be obligated to pay it. That means your wages cannot be garnished.
However, if you file Chapter 13 bankruptcy and are successful with your case, you are still legally responsible for your debts. However, your debts may be restructured into a new and manageable repayment plan, so this can still protect your wages from being garnished. If you fail to make payments under the new plan, the creditor may then have to file another lawsuit against you so they can garnish your wages.
How Much of Your Wages Can Be Garnished?
Even if you do not have a valid defense against wage garnishment, it is important to understand what rights creditors and debt collectors have, and what they cannot do. Federal law states that garnishments cannot exceed more than 25 percent of a borrower’s disposable income. This limit applies to all garnishments, so even if three creditors want to garnish your wages, the total amount garnished cannot exceed 25 percent of your disposable income.
There is an exception to this law, though. If your disposable income is greater than 30 times the federal minimum wages per week, a creditor can garnish 25 percent of your disposable income or 30 times the federal minimum wages per week, whichever is the lower amount. It is important to know exactly how many of your wages are being garnished, and if the garnishment complies with the law.
Our Florida Debt Defense Lawyers Can Help with Your Wage Garnishment Case
Learning that your wages have been garnished, or that they are about to be, is extremely upsetting. At Loan Lawyers, our Fort Lauderdale debt defense attorneys can help. We understand the laws creditors must follow, as well as the defenses available in these cases. If your wages have been garnished, or you fear a creditor is about to take action, call us at (954) 807-1361 to schedule a free consultation.
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Loan Lawyers has helped over 5,000 South Florida homeowners and consumers with their debt problems, we have saved over 2,000 homes from foreclosure, eliminated more than $100,000,000 in mortgage principal and consumer debt, and have recovered over $10,000,000 on behalf of our clients due to bank, loan servicer, and debt collector violations. Contact us for a free consultation and find out more about our money-back guarantee on credit card debt buyer lawsuits, and how we may be able to help you.