How Income Garnishment Works

You’ve just gotten your check, and you discover that a good portion of it is missing. You see the words garnishment written on it, or maybe you have heard one of your co-workers talking about a wage garnishment that they are suffering through. You may be wondering what exactly a wage garnishment is, and what it entitles? A wage garnishment is when a creditor obtains a legal judgment that allows them to take a portion of your income to satisfy a debt.

*How does a garnishment happen, and how much of income will be taken?

First, you must owe an outstanding debt to a company or other agency. After having tried other means of collection such as letters and/or phone calls have failed, the company decides to take you to court in order to collect their money.  During court proceedings, you are given an opportunity to respond to the judgment and present any evidence that might explain your laps in bill payment. You are also given a chance to attempt to reach a settlement with the creditor. If no settlement is reached, a judgment in favor of the creditor will be granted, and the garnishment will proceed.

Once a garnishment is granted, they are entitled to a portion of your income. Just how much of your income can the creditor take? Federal law allows up to 25 percent of a person’s income can be garnished providing that you meet a certain amount of earnings.

*Government agencies

Government agencies like the State Tax Commission, Internal Revenue Service, or Child Support agencies do not have to go through the same court procedures in order to secure a wage garnishment like other creditors. All they have to do is notify you of the impeding garnishment. Only government agencies can garnish a person’s wages without going through court.

*Can a garnishment be stopped?

Yes, a garnishment can be stopped. If you do not meet the income requirements, a garnishment cannot be taken out. You can also work out an arrangement with the creditor and have a garnishment stopped. Another way that you can have a garnishment stopped is to file for bankruptcy. Although bankruptcy may sound like a wonderful idea, it can adversely affect your credit.


There are some exceptions to garnishment. Some states do not allow garnishments, and there are also some accounts that cannot be garnished. Those accounts have exempt status such as Social Security or SSI. 

A garnishment can take a big, painful bite out of your paycheck, and it can help ruin your credit. Wage garnishments should be avoided if at all possible. Try to work out an arrangement with your creditors before a court judgment against you is obtained.