Can My Creditors Garnish My Wages?

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If you are being irresponsible about repaying debt, any private creditor (including credit card companies), can seek a court order to garnish your wages.

Garnishing wages often is a last resort, and it takes legal steps before money can be ripped out of your paycheck via garnishment. There also are legal limits to the amount of the garnishment, which we’ll get into.

But if a credit card company feels you are not being diligent about repaying a debt (or if you stop paying credit cards), it can seek a court order to garnish wages – while still forcing you to pay their excessive interest rate.

What Is Wage Garnishment?

Wage garnishment is a way for companies to collect debt that requires a court order. If a court rules your wages can be garnished, part of your earnings are taken from your paycheck and given directly to creditors to pay debts.

Wages can be garnished for delinquent loans or credit card bills, or for public debt, like unpaid taxes.

Let’s say you take home $3,000 per month from your job. With a court order, a credit card company can garnish 25% of your take-home pay, which means $750 goes to the credit card debt, not to your wallet.

When you get a credit card, you sign an agreement that you will pay the debts you incur. If you don’t make the payments, you’ve breached the contract and can be sued. Typically, credit card companies will first work with you to try to figure a way to have the debt repaid, but if you have too much credit card debt, you risk the card company’s wrath.

Legal steps must be taken to start garnishment. A creditor typically sues the borrower if you are delinquent or simply not paying. The court order allows for the garnishment of part of your wages, and the amount garnished depends on what you earn.

How long are wages garnished? Typically until your debts are settled.

Who Can Garnish Wages?

Any private creditor can seek garnishment of wages. This includes credit card companies, banks, mortgage companies, student loan servicers, and debt collection agencies.

Wages also could be garnished to pay an unpaid tax debt.

If credit card debt is your issue, it’s a painful one. For one, the average interest rate on credit cards is 20%-21%. That is an enormous burden. But if you ignore the debt or stop paying on it, credit card companies can seek a court order to garnish wages.

Garnishment is a seriously unpleasant experience. Nobody wants to work and see their money go to someone else, but that’s exactly what happens. A chunk of your paycheck disappears.

While it’s good that it is reducing your debt, it is not easy to adjust to suddenly bringing home less money.

How Much of Your Wages Can Be Garnished?

The Consumer Financial Protection Act limits how much can be garnished, and it’s based on your earnings and the type of debt you have.

For private debt like a credit card company, garnishment is limited to 25% of your take-home pay ($250 if your take home pay is $1,000) or by the amount your take-home pay is greater than 30 times the federal minimum wage, whichever is less.

That’s some gobbledygook from the government, so let’s break it down.

The federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour; 30 times that wage is $217.50. So if your take-home pay is $217.50 or less per week, you cannot be garnished. If take-home pay is between $217.50 and $290, the amount above $217.50 can be garnished. If take-home earnings are above $290, 25% can be garnished.

Garnishment is higher when it comes to alimony and child support – between 50% and 65% of income depending on the situation. It is limited to 15% of income for student loans. The IRS has its own rules for determining how much can be garnished for back taxes.

State governments may have their own laws that limit garnishment, but they cannot conflict with the federal laws.

How To Prevent Wage Garnishment

It’s never good to get to the point where wages are garnished. You work for your money and losing it because you’ve ignored or not paid debt has ripple effects to budgets and the quality of life.

Once a court order is issued that allows the creditor to garnish wages, it’s tough to stop the process, but there are steps to avoid that problem.

Here are some ways to avoid garnishment:

  • Settle the debt: Debt settlement involves negotiating an agreement with a lender to accept less than you owe. A creditor is under no obligation to accept a settlement, but it might take this option because it will avoid the costs of going to court. This option is good if you are close to bankruptcy and want to avoid filing.
  • Review state exemptions: States may allow you to exempt things like Social Security income, disability, child support or other retirement income. Assessing your situation might require legal advice, especially because claiming the state exemption means filing in state court. One key fact to remember is each state has a statute of limitations on debt, usually 4-6 years; it’s important to be sure the creditor actually has legal standing to sue over the debt.
  • Challenge the garnishment: When you receive the court order that you will be garnished, there will be instructions on how to challenge it. This means filing with the clerk of court that you will be challenging the garnishment. States have different time limits on when you can challenge, so be sure to know the rules in your state.
  • File for bankruptcy: This filing stops garnishment. Once you file bankruptcy you are protected by the automatic stay that prevents creditors from collecting on debts while your case is being heard in court. Bankruptcy typically is a last resort, and not many like the idea. But for some it leads to a solution and a fresh start once debts are paid. As scary as bankruptcy sounds, it might not be as scary as seeing wages garnished.

How Many Workers Are Affected by Wage Garnishment?

The National Bureau of Economic Research reports that:

  • As of 2019, more than 1% of workers were seeing wages garnished.
  • The average time length of the garnishment is five months.
  • In that time, workers saw 11% of take-home pay lost to garnishment.
  • About 7% of U.S. workers have experienced at least one wage garnishment.

Seek Credit Counseling To Help Deal With Your Debt

Anyone struggling with credit card debt to the point they are facing wage garnishment is at a point where sound advice and support are needed. Nonprofit credit counseling provides that assistance.

Credit counseling is a free service that provides help with budgets and solutions for becoming debt-free. Counselors can assess your situation and are bound by law to offer the best solution for your problem.

Debt settlement might be an option for some, but others may consider a debt management plan. This involves working out an agreement with credit card companies to lower the interest rate on the debt. It requires consistent monthly payments but may be an option for your situation.

Seeking the advice a nonprofit credit counselor can offer might be the best next step you can take to avoid garnishment and repay debts.

About The Author

George Morris

In his 40-plus-year newspaper career, George Morris has written about just about everything -- Super Bowls, evangelists, World War II veterans and ordinary people with extraordinary tales. His work has received multiple honors from the Society of Professional Journalists, the Louisiana-Mississippi Associated Press and the Louisiana Press Association. He avoids debt when he can and pays it off quickly when he can't, and he's only too happy to suggest how you might do the same.


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  2. Loftsgordon, A. (ND) Using Exemptions to Protect Your Wages From Garnishment. Retrieved from
  3. U.S. Department of Labor (2020, October 20) Fact Sheet #30: The Federal Wage Garnishment Law, Consumer Credit Protections Act’s Title III (CCPA). Retrieved from