Can Wages Be Garnished for Medical Bills?

Health care providers can't garnish your pay without suing you first.
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Health care providers can garnish your wages if you don't pay your medical bills, but they can't do it without a little effort. Only a handful of creditors can take your earnings without first suing you in court, and hospitals and physicians are not among them. They must win the case against you and get a judgment. Then they can use the judgment to garnish your wages.


How Garnishments Work

After they receive a judgment against you, health care providers can take 25 percent of your disposable earnings or the portion of your disposable earnings that exceeds 30 times the current federal minimum wage. They're limited to whichever option amounts to less taken from your pay. These are federal guidelines. Individual states have their own rules, but states can't allow creditors to take more of your wages than federal law allows. "Disposable" means that which is left over after you pay mandatory taxes and retirement contributions, but voluntary contributions don't count.


What You Can Do

Health care providers usually don't rush straight to the courthouse if you don't pay your medical bills immediately. You may have as long as three to four months before they take action. If you contact them and work out a payment schedule, you might be able to avoid wage garnishment. You also have the right to defend yourself in court if you feel that the amount they say you owe is incorrect.