Most wage garnishments don't happen without warning. Except for debts like taxes or family support obligations, consumer lenders must first take you to court and win a judgment against you. Only then can a lender ask the court for a garnishment order and serve it on your employer. The exact rules to appeal the process --called challenging or objecting in legal terms-- depend on your state and federal law.
The Court Procedure
Raising an objection to a wage garnishment usually involves going back to court. You should receive a copy of the garnishment order at about the same time your employer does. It should include instructions for filing a challenge ahead of the court date. You can't just state that you're challenging the garnishment, however. You must give a legal reason, or grounds, for doing so.
If you receive a garnishment order without any instructional paperwork or extra documents, take it to legal aid or an attorney as soon as possible to find out how you should respond. You can also contact the clerk of the court to get forms and instructions for the documents you must file if the omission was a mistake or oversight. You usually have only a limited period of time in which to file a written objection.
Claim Improper Procedure
You can object to the garnishment if the judgment creditor didn't properly initiate the process. This might be the case if you never received notice and knew nothing about the garnishment until you realized your paycheck was short. Some states require that creditors offer you a payment plan first. If your lender didn't do that, it might give you grounds to object. Garnishment procedure depends heavily on state law, so check with your local legal aid society to find out if your creditor did everything it was supposed to do.
Claim a Wage Exemption
You may also be able to exempt some -- if not all -- of your wages from garnishment. North Carolina and Pennsylvania don't allow garnishment for anything other than student loans, taxes and family support obligations. If you live in one of these jurisdictions and a credit card lender is trying to take your wages, you have grounds to object.
Federal law limits the amount of garnishments for consumer debts to the portion of your earnings that exceeds 30 times the federal minimum wage or 25 percent of your pay, whichever is less. This is based on what's left over after mandatory deductions, such as for Social Security and income tax. Some states allow creditors to take even less. If you live in one of them, these laws take precedence over the federal limits.
Some states offer even more favorable limits for heads of household. If your income is the sole or main source of financial support for your family, you might be able to claim this exemption instead and limit garnishment to very little or even nothing at all.
If you object on grounds that the judgment creditor is garnishing too much, include copies of your pay records when you file your written objection with the court. Take copies with you to the hearing as well.