Wage garnishment occurs when a creditor takes money directly from your paycheck in order to pay off your outstanding debt. The process is entirely legal, and many forms of debt can be subject to wage garnishments.
If you’ve been subjected to wage garnishment, the process can be insulting and stressful. Automatically losing a percentage of your paycheck makes affording basic expenses much more difficult. By having to restrict a portion of your paycheck, your employer will be aware of your personal financial situation, as well.
If your wages are being garnished, a wage garnishment lawyer at Birk Law Firm in Missouri can help. Navigating your options together can point to the best way forward. Plus, you may be able to stop wage garnishment immediately, freeing you from creditors’ direct access to your paycheck.
Understanding the Wage Garnishment Process
A Court Order to Garnish Wages
After a wage garnishment takes effect, money will be withheld from your paycheck. However, most private company creditors cannot begin wage garnishment until they’ve acquired a court judgment stating that a debtor owes a creditor money. A creditor must petition a court to issue a writ of garnishment to a debtor’s employer. After one is granted, you and your employer will receive notice of the wage garnishment.
A credit card company or hospital, for example, might file a lawsuit to obtain a judgment to begin wage garnishment for unpaid credit card debt or an unpaid hospital bill. A court order is not required to begin garnishing wages for unpaid income taxes, defaulted student loans, or court-ordered child support payments, however.
How Much of My Wages Can Be Garnished?
Federal and state law limit how much of a debtor’s wages can be garnished in order to repay a debt. Missouri law follows the federal standards for wage garnishment limitations, with the exception of debtors who are the head of household; less of these debtors’ income can be subjected to garnishment.
The amount of money that can be garnished from a debtor’s wages includes:
- Twenty-five percent of a debtor’s disposable income. “Disposable” income includes wages remaining after legally required deductions for taxes and Social Security have been taken out.
- The amount by which your weekly disposable income exceeds 30 times the federal minimum hourly wage.
- Ten percent of a debtor’s disposable income if the debtor is a head of household.
It’s important to note that if a debtor owes money to multiple creditors, combined wage garnishments cannot exceed the above percentages and amounts. The law recognizes a debtor’s need to have money for living expenses. However, deductions for health insurance, grocery bills, utilities, and other basic expenses are not permitted, and many debtors find it very difficult to cover living expenses once their wages are garnished.
Garnishments for Child Support, Student Loans, and Unpaid Taxes
Compared to private companies, federal entities do not need to obtain a court order to begin garnishing your wages. This means that payments owed for child support, student loans, and unpaid taxes can be obtained via wage garnishments.
If a parent falls behind in child support payments, the other parent can obtain a wage garnishment order so that funds are taken automatically.
Federal law limits how much of your paycheck can be subjected to wage garnishment for child support payments. However, the amount is higher than what private companies can take. Child support garnishments also typically take priority over other wage garnishments.
- Up to 50 percent of disposable income may be garnished to pay child support if the debtor is supporting a spouse and another child who isn’t the focus of the garnishment.
- Up to 60 percent of disposable income may be garnished if the debtor is not supporting a spouse or child.
- An additional 5 percent can be taken for support payments that are more than 12 weeks behind regular payment schedule.
Debtors who are in default on their federal student loans could have their wages garnished by the U.S. Department of Education or by an agency collecting debts on its behalf. Known as an administrative garnishment, student loan wage garnishments do not run as high as child support and private debt garnishments.
- Up to 15 percent of disposable income can be garnished for unpaid student loans.
- The total amount garnished from a paycheck cannot exceed more than 30 times the minimum wage.
The federal government can place a garnishment on your wages if you owe unpaid back taxes. Here, the amount that can be garnished varies based on your number of dependents and your tax deduction rate. Many state governments, including Missouri, along with local governments, can also garnish wages if a debtor owes unpaid state or local taxes.
Stop Wage Garnishment Immediately
If money is being taken out of your paycheck as a result of wage garnishment, paying for your basic expenses can be difficult to impossible. Additionally, having enough money left over to afford even simple pleasures like a restaurant meal or movie ticket becomes out of reach.
If your wages are being garnished, there are some steps you can take to stop wage garnishment immediately. A wage garnishment lawyer can help you to figure out how to stop wage garnishment and prevent creditors from directly taking a cut of your paycheck.
Asking a Court to Stop Your Wage Garnishment
In order to stop paying a creditor, you can return to the local court that issued the judgment asking that your wages be garnished. After filing paperwork and requesting a hearing, you will have to prove that you do not have enough money to pay the garnishment and still afford basic expenses. At the hearing, you will have to present evidence that bills for rent, utilities, and other necessary expenses exceed your ability to pay with a garnishment in place.
Filing for Bankruptcy
If you file for bankruptcy, a court order called an automatic stay takes effect. The automatic stay requires that creditors stop wage garnishment immediately until your bankruptcy petition is complete. The automatic stay does not guarantee protection, however, as it might last only temporarily, especially if you’ve filed for bankruptcy repeatedly. Consulting a bankruptcy lawyer can help you to know exactly where you stand.
Still, if you’ve filed for bankruptcy, it can take a week or more for official case notification to make its way to creditors. To make sure that your garnishment stops quickly, you and your attorney should inform your employer and the creditor of the bankruptcy filing by providing the bankruptcy case number and filing date.
FAQs About Wage Garnishment
What Is the Statute of Limitations for Wage Garnishments?
The Missouri statute of limitations on debt is between five and 10 years. This means that creditors have a five- to 10-year window to collect debt and file a lawsuit against you. This statute timeframe applies to private creditors and to the IRS if unpaid taxes are owed. Student loans, however, are one of the few types of debt that never expire. Therefore, there’s no deadline for wages to be garnished for unpaid student loans.
Can I Be Fired for Garnished Wages?
Both Missouri law and federal law prohibit firing an employee because of garnished wages. In fact, an employee who fires a debtor because of wage garnishment could be subject to fines and misdemeanor penalties. While you may be upset that an employer must know about a personal financial situation, you cannot be fired for being in debt and having a portion of your wages garnished.
Can I Negotiate with Creditors?
Although wage garnishment is typically a last resort that creditors use to obtain payment, you may be able to negotiate. Creditors may agree to accept less money than the amount entered in a court judgment. Further, some creditors may agree to a payment schedule and will stop the wage garnishment as long as you do not miss a payment. Such scenarios are fluid and dependent on a creditor’s cooperation, however. It is best to talk about such options with a wage garnishment lawyer.
How Can I Prevent Wage Garnishment?
Almost any debt can qualify for wage garnishment, although the most common types include unpaid child support, taxes, and student loans. Payments that are well past due, attempts by creditors to collect debt, and returned checks could be indicators preceding a wage garnishment. While companies and federal entities can decide when to seek wage garnishment, it is typically used as a last resort for debtors who haven’t complied with other means of repaying debts.
What If My Employer Doesn’t Think My Wages Should Be Garnished?
No matter how much your employer likes you or sympathizes with your financial situation, it cannot refuse to garnish your wages once a court order has been received. If the instructions say to withhold a percent of your paycheck, your employer must comply. An employer who refuses to comply with the garnishment process could end up taking on the debt that an employee owes, along with other penalties.
A Wage Garnishment Lawyer Who Knows How to Stop Wage Garnishment in Missouri
When a creditor, the government, or some other entity is garnishing your wages, it feels like a violation. Someone has resolved to take money directly from you, leaving you little alternative other than paying up. Having your wages garnished can be frustrating, embarrassing, and isolating.
While wage garnishment is legal, any creditor needs to realize and understand when you simply cannot afford to have a percentage of your wages taken before payment even makes it to your bank account. Creditors must work with you instead of forcibly taking your wages.
If your wages are being garnished, you need to speak with a wage garnishment lawyer who knows how to stop wage garnishment in Missouri. So, call the legal team at Birk Law Firm to figure out your financial options and how to stop wage garnishment immediately.
Contact us at 573-332-8585 and request a free consultation today.
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