The Method and Legal Boundaries of Wage Garnishment

In most cases, creditors must sue you and win a judgment against you before garnishing your wages. There are exceptions, however, for certain debts owed to public agencies, such as past-due state income taxes and family support payments. The law also provides for specific limits on wage garnishment and protects other income sources such as Social Security or veterans benefits. 

Legal Limits

A creditor needs a court order to garnish wages, and there are legal limits on how much may be seized. Creditors may garnish wages for several debts, including child support, back taxes, and defaulted student loans. A garnishment cannot amount to more than 25% of a worker’s disposable income or 30 times the federal minimum wage, whichever is less, according to the Consumer Credit Protection Act (CCPA). The CCPA also prohibits employers from firing or otherwise retaliating against employees who have wages garnished. State laws offer additional protections for workers whose wages are garnished, including the right to file for bankruptcy protection.

In addition, the CCPA limits deductions from an employee’s income to those legally mandated or required by law. Voluntary deductions like health insurance, 401(k) contributions, and charity donations are not included in an employee’s disposable earnings and are thus not subject to garnishment limits. If multiple garnishment orders are filed against a single employee, the CCPA does not specify how they should be prioritized. However, it does provide that family debts and public debts — such as past-due tax debts or federal student loan debts — are generally given lower priority than private debts. Automation for wage garnishment can assist businesses in streamlining contacts with the state agency, ensuring that orders are handled promptly, and ensuring the security of sensitive employee data while conducting transactions. Integrated solutions can also assist companies in lowering the possibility of fines for non-compliance.


The employer must follow the procedures and legal limits to handle wage garnishment. The creditor must also provide the employee with a copy of each pay period’s garnishment order, and the amount withheld should be identified on the paycheck. If the employee has multiple garnishment orders, the employer should only pay a subsequent one once the first is paid in full. A creditor must obtain a court judgment against you for the debt they are trying to collect before they may garnish your earnings. A wage garnishment is only available for certain kinds of debt, including child support, alimony, student loans, and back taxes. The creditor must file a lawsuit to obtain the court judgment or receive a default judgment from a judge if you don’t respond to the suit. The judgment creditor can also try to collect the money by seizing your property through a bank levy or placing a lien on your real estate. Wage garnishments are limited to 25 percent of the employee’s disposable income and can only be done up to 30 times the federal minimum wage. Earnings that remain after legally necessary deductions, such as federal and state taxes, the employee’s part of Social Security and unemployment insurance, and withholding for employee retirement schemes, are referred to as disposable income. Other deductions not required by law, such as voluntary wage assignments, contributions to charitable causes, and payments for merchandise or payroll advances, don’t count toward disposable income.


Wage garnishment is an enforcement tool that allows a creditor to legally withhold money from an employee’s paycheck to pay off a debt. Creditors authorized to take this action include credit card companies, banks, auto lenders, government agencies, and even family members. Before securing a wage garnishment order, creditors must win a court judgment against the debtor, and both federal and state statutes have restrictions on the amount that can be deducted. Wages can be garnished to pay for various debts, including child and spousal support, student loans, back taxes, and other public obligations. The amount a creditor can take from an employee’s paycheck is typically limited to 25% of disposable earnings (income after mandatory deductions) or 30 times the federal minimum wage per hour, whichever is less. Federal rules also establish exemptions for various types of debt, and state laws may vary in terms of the exempted amounts or the maximum percentages that creditors can garnish from an employee’s salary. A debtor who receives a garnishment notice from a creditor can challenge the order by filing a motion with the court. The person may also ask the judge to consider their financial condition and whether or not a garnishment would be difficult for them. If a court allows the garnishment, it will issue an order the employer must follow. 


Typically, a creditor must win a lawsuit against you and receive a money judgment before garnishing your wages. However, a creditor can proceed directly to wage garnishment without needing a judgment for a few types of debts (income tax, government student loans, and court-ordered child support). After obtaining the garnishment, your employer must withhold a percentage of your salary and send it to the creditor. The marshal or sheriff will notify you, and you may object to the garnishment because it exceeds legal limits or you have satisfied your debt or are in bankruptcy. Whether you are supporting a spouse or family and the amount of your income left over after necessary deductions (such as federal and state taxes, social security, and unemployment insurance) determine how much of your salary can be withheld.  Garnishments may continue for a certain amount or until your obligation is fully paid, depending on the kind of debt and state legislation. You cannot be fired or otherwise disciplined by your employer because you are subject to a wage garnishment, and you can request that the garnishment ends through your initial court hearing or by contacting your debt collector.

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