The amount of money that a creditor can deduct (garnish) from your paycheck depends on the particular type of debt and federal and state law. Some of the most commonly garnished debts include:
- child or spousal support obligations
- Internal Revenue Service (IRS) tax debt
- government-backed student loan debt, or
- court judgments (for credit accounts, utility bills, medical care, and the like).
(To learn about the garnishment process, read When Can a Creditor Garnish Your Wages?)
IRS Tax Debt
The IRS can deduct (levy) more of your check than any other creditor. In fact, the IRS isn’t limited to a maximum figure. Instead, it will take everything over and above the funds that you’ll need to cover basic living expenses—and it can do so without going to court.
So how does the IRS determine how much you can keep? It depends on your exemptions.
For instance, in 2017, if you claimed head of household and five exemptions, you’d be able to retain $569.23 per week. The remaining amount would go to the IRS to pay down your bill. Go here to view the table (but be sure to verify that you’re using the current year).
(More information is available in How to Stop an IRS Wage Garnishment.)
Domestic Support Obligations
If you receive a court order to pay a support obligation, you can expect your employer to withhold a sizable portion of your wages each month—up to 60% of your disposable earnings, to be exact. If you are supporting someone other than the person covered by the support obligation, the amount will drop to 50%; however, you can expect your employer to take another 5% if you owe over 12 weeks of back support (arrearages).
Government-Backed Student Loan Debt
The U.S. Department of Education—or an organization acting on its behalf—can deduct 15% of your disposable income without a court judgment. The garnishment shouldn’t take you by surprise, however. At least 30 days beforehand, the servicer must send you a notice explaining the following:
- the amount that you owe
- how to avoid the garnishment by entering into a voluntary repayment agreement, and
- how to request a hearing if you’d like to dispute the debt.
(For more details, see How to Stop a Government Student Loan Wage Garnishment.)
Most creditors must sue you and receive a money judgment before garnishing your wages. Federal law limits how much someone holding a money judgment can take from your check. Specifically, a judgment creditor is limited to the lesser of the following:
- 25% of your disposable earnings (the amount that remains after subtracting mandatory deductions), or
- the portion exceeding 30 times the minimum wage.
This formula represents the maximum amount that the employer can take from your check. Your state, however, can—and might—allow you to protect more of your income. For instance, in West Virginia, you can keep up to 50 times the minimum wage, and Texas doesn’t allow for wage garnishments at all (except those for domestic support obligations, student loans, and taxes).
(For more information, read How to Stop a Wage Garnishment.)
Applying for a Hardship
In some cases, you might be able to lower or avoid the garnishment if paying the garnishment will cause you (or your family) to suffer an undue hardship. The procedures for making a claim on these grounds vary by state. If the garnishment will prevent you from providing your family with necessary support, consider speaking with an attorney or contacting the self-help division at your local courthouse. Also, review the paperwork given to you by your employer. It might provide valuable instructions.
(Find out more in How Do I Object to a Wage Garnishment?)
Questions for Your Attorney
- What is the maximum amount that my employer can deduct from my check in my state?
- How do I object to a wage garnishment?
- Can you object to the garnishment on my behalf?