Many Americans rely heavily on their paychecks to get by. So, when they find out that a portion of their pay is being withheld, they have a lot of questions. We want to help those experiencing this understand what they can expect.

What is wage garnishment?

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, “wage garnishment is a legal procedure in which a person’s earnings are required by court order to be withheld by an employer for the payment of a debt.”

What are some kinds of debt that lead to garnishment?

If debtors go into default on these payments, their wages can be garnished:

  • Child support
  • Student loans
  • Unpaid taxes

For these debts, your wages can be garnished without the creditor taking any additional steps. Other kinds of debts require them to go through the courts to get permission to garnish wages.

How does the process of garnishment work?

For debts that are not listed above, the creditor must get a court judgment stating that you owe them money. This means that they must:

  • Go to court
  • File a lawsuit against you
  • Win

After they win, the money judgment will be presented to you, and your wages can then be garnished.

Are there any limits?

There are limitations on how much money can be taken out of your paycheck according to federal law:

  • Your disposable income can be garnished by a maximum of 25%, or,
  • It can be garnished by the amount by which it exceeds 30 times the federal minimum wage

According to Florida state law, if your disposable income is less than 30 times the federal minimum wage, your pay is protected from garnishment.

Anything else I should know?

Another exception for wage garnishment is if you are the head of your household, and you make less than $750 weekly. To be recognized as the head of household, you must provide more than half of the support for a dependent, such as a child.

This exemption is not automatically granted. To qualify, you must file the appropriate paperwork with the court after you receive notification that a creditor wants to have your wages garnished.

Also, some employers would prefer to terminate the employee rather than go through the hassle of garnishing your wages — however, there are some limitations to this. Federal law prohibits your employer from terminating your employment if you have one wage garnishment. However, there are no further protections if you have more.

An experienced attorney can help you better understand wage garnishment and the options you have if you are facing it.