Sunday, November 25, 2012

A checklist for the wage garnishment debtor

There are few things in life more insulting, embarrassing and shocking  then to have your wages garnished. Even if you know that it's coming, or suspect the possibility, it is still a big shock when it happens. The universal question is, "What can I do about it."

The first priority is to get informed, both about the law and the facts.

The first understanding is in the United States there are a few Federal wage garnishment laws that apply to every state, but the main legal provisions are based upon State law, and the laws are very different from one State to the next. So, the Federal wage garnishment laws apply everywhere in the United States no matter where you live and the State wage garnishment laws apply depending upon where you live, where you work and where your employer does business. See the limits on wage garnishment put in place by Federal law: What's the maximum amount of wage garnishment?

The second understanding is that different wage garnishment rules apply depending upon the type of debt that's being collected. A wage garnishment for a credit card debt is different from a garnishment for a child support debt, for example. There are several other types of debt, with differing garnishment rules, in addition to these.

An important third understanding is the availability of free or low-cost legal services. Legal Services Corporation lists affiliates in each of the fifty States and the District of Columbia. In order to qualify for free legal assistance from a program funded by LSC, you must not have income and assets over a certain level. The programs only accept cases that fall within its established priorities, which may or may not include wage garnishments. But, you must contact your local program directly to find out if you meet the eligibility guidelines and if your legal problem is among the program's priorities for services. If your local program is unable to help you directly, they may be able to suggest other useful resources in your area.

The final understanding is that you can always do it yourself, without a lawyer. You have a Constitutional right to represent yourself in court. Some cases are simple and others are complex. Some of the more complex issues of garnishment law involve debtors, employers and creditors in different states. See: Can garnishment follow you Across State Lines?


A. Basic information you must have:
  1. The name of the court that ordered wage garnishment and the court identification number for your garnishment. 
  2. The name of the garnishment creditor and its lawyer. You need contact information.
  3. The source of the debt being collected. This usually involves a prior lawsuit and court judgment against you. It is useful to have all the details about that prior lawsuit too. It might have been in a different court, or even in a different state. What is the total amount owed? What is the interest rate you are now being charged on this amount?

B. Options:
  1. Pay the whole debt, plus interest, in full.
  2. Seek bankruptcy protection.
  3. Take the required steps to claim optional State law exemptions, if any are available.
  4. Seek to invalidate or set-aside the prior judgment.
  5. Negotiate a voluntary payment plan that does not involve wage garnishment.
  6. Seek to have the amount of the garnishment reduced for hardship reasons.