You’ve received paperwork from your employer that says a wage garnishment is about to begin, or worse, deductions have already started. Not only will you have a short amount of time in which to take action, but what you do will depend on the type of creditor you’re dealing with and the circumstances of your situation.
Stopping a Wage Garnishment by a Judgment Creditor
Most garnishments start after a creditor sues you and a court awards a money judgment against you stating how much you owe. A creditor with a judgment—now called a “judgment creditor”—can instruct a “levying officer” (usually the sheriff) to give a wage garnishment order to your employer. Once received, your employer must comply with the order.
If you don’t agree with the garnishment order, you’ll have to take action in court. You can learn how by reading How to Fight a Wage Garnishment by Vacating a Default Judgment.
Claiming an Exemption or Undue Hardship
Both state and federal law will protect some of your income from creditors. You’ll find this information in your state’s “exemption statutes.” (These same exemptions allow you to protect property in bankruptcy.)
Even if your income isn’t entirely exempt, you can ask the court to allow you to pay less (or not to pay at all) based on “undue hardship.” The court will grant your request if you can show that paying the creditor would prevent you from paying for other essential expenses such as food, utilities, or shelter, and excuse you from paying.
The process for claiming undue hardship is the same as filing a claim of exemption. In addition to filing the claim of exemption paperwork with the court (and serving it on the creditor and the levying officer), you’ll also have to file a detailed income and expense sheet showing your income, your expenses, and how much (if any) money you have left over after paying all necessary expenses. If the creditor opposes your motion, the court will schedule a hearing to decide how much you should pay.
Proving an exemption or undue hardship does not take away the creditor’s judgment, however. The creditor also can try to make you pay again at a future date. You may have to show again that you still have an undue hardship at a new court hearing.
Find out more information in How Do I File a Claim of Exemption to Stop a Wage Garnishment?
Student Loan Wage Garnishments
If your wages are being garnished because you have not been able to pay on a federal student loan, you have several options, including:
- requesting a hearing to object to the garnishment, and
- making arrangements to enter into a payment plan.
To learn the particulars, read Fighting a Student Loan Garnishment: Your Options.
Internal Revenue Service Wage Garnishments
Unlike most other creditors, the IRS does not have to sue you and get a judgment before garnishing your wages. However, the IRS should have sent you a notice telling you how much you owe and for what tax years before the garnishment began. Not to fear, however—you still have options. If you owe the tax, you can find out what to do by reading How to Stop an IRS Wage Garnishment.
If the garnishment is incorrect, you might be the victim of identity theft. You’ll need to get in touch with the IRS to resolve the situation.
Expect the IRS to ask for any evidence you have to show that you are an identity theft victim. Such documentation might include a fraud affidavit, a police report, a Social Security Administration notice showing your Social Security number is being used by another individual, or other similar documents.
Questions for Your Attorney
- I wasn’t served with a lawsuit before my wage garnishment began. Do I have a legal claim against the creditor?
- How do I ask for a student loan hearing?
- Can you file a claim of undue hardship on my behalf?