A wage garnishment can create a big headache when it comes to paying bills and living expenses. If paying for basic expenses seems impossible due to a garnishment, you can take measures to get it reduced. Some wages cannot be garnished at all, but you may have to be proactive to protect them.
Look for Exemptions
Some income is exempt from garnishment, including payments made by the government, such as Social Security benefits, disability or pensions. Child support and alimony payments also are exempt from garnishment. If you owe money to the IRS, are behind on your student loan or owe child support, these exemptions may not apply. If you are the head of household and pay more than 50 percent for your children or other dependents, your wages also may be exempt.
File a Claim
If you find some of your income is exempt, file a Claim of Exemption form with the court that issued the judgment that resulted in the garnishment. A hearing will be scheduled once you file the exemption. At the hearing, the judge will ask you to explain why you believe you qualify for the exemption. Plan to bring a few months of your most recent bank statements to show where the money comes from to help convince the judge. If the judge rules in your favor, the court will order your creditor to rescind the garnishment.
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Review Maximum Rules
The federal law says that no more than 25 percent of your wages, after deductions, can be garnished. Each state also can set up its own laws with greater wage protections. For instance, in California the garnishment is based on what's left over after you keep the equivalent of the hourly minimum rate of $9 times 40 hours per week, or $360 weekly. If you make minimum wage, federal law would allow creditors to garnish 25 percent of your wages, or $90, but California law says no wages can be garnished since you make no more than $360 per week.
Since garnishments are based on the amount of money you are paid after deductions, review the number of allowances you're currently claiming on your W-4 Form, the Employee's Withholding Allowance Certificate. If you decrease your allowances, more of your money will be taxed, leaving less for the garnishment and possibly a larger tax refund. If you work a second job or someone else in your home also works, increasing the allowances at that job can increase the take-home pay, helping to offset the garnishment.
Filing a Chapter 7 or 13 bankruptcy may give you access to more of your money since all consumer debt garnishments must be removed. Be aware that some garnishments are still considered valid, such as those caused because of overdue taxes, child support, alimony and student loans.