Do you have a lot of unpaid debts? If so, your creditors may threaten your paycheck with wage garnishment. Wage garnishment occurs when a court issues an order to withhold a percentage of your paycheck until your debts are paid off.
For large debts, this can be financially devastating. Is there something you can do?
Here are 5 tips to stop the garnishment of your wages:
Stay in touch with your creditor
It is important to remember that your creditor(s) will pursue wage garnishment when they’ve exhausted every method to get you to pay your debt. To prevent them from going to court, you should do your best to stay in touch with the creditor, working on setting up a reasonable repayment plan. Showing your intent to repay may make the creditor back off and avoid court proceedings. After all, going to court is costly for both you and creditor, so any preventative measure is a relief for both parties.
File a claim of exemption
If it’s already too late and the wage garnishment has already been approved in court, you do have the right to file a “claim of exemption.” A claim of exemption shows that you cannot afford giving up a chunk of your paycheck because your basic living costs (such as housing, insurance and your grocery bill) would not be met.
To file a claim of exemption, you’ll need to prove to the court that would get behind on your regularly-occurring bills if a wage garnishment were instated. If the court accepts that your financial situation would be significantly worsened with a wage garnishment, the creditor may be prevented from taking a portion of your wages or there may be a reduction to the amount that would be taken from each paycheck.
Pay the judgment amount
Obviously, if you can pay the debt off, you would avoid the wage garnishment process off altogether. However, if you do have some funds available to pay off the full debt within 10 days of the judgment, the court can stop the garnishment process. Make sure you’re aware of the judgment amount and take steps to pay it off in full as soon as you can. Bear in mind that you may have to pay interest on the judgment amount, which also includes attorney’s fees and processing costs, which may inflate the cost of your original debt.
Filing for bankruptcy
If your debts are too big to handle and you can’t convince the courts to cut you a break, filing for bankruptcy may be your best option. By law, filing for bankruptcy ensures that creditors to stop contacting you or pursue further action. Of course, this isn’t always a feasible solution for most people—it wreaks havoc on your credit score and may make your life significantly more difficult in the future. For more info on bankruptcy and what it entails, read my article here.
Things to keep in mind about wage garnishment
Wage garnishment has more ramifications than just slicing off a portion of your paycheck. Here are some things to keep in mind when your wages (or severance pay) will be garnished:
- Do you have a joint bank account with your spouse? Creditors may have the ability to take money from a joint account, even if some of that money is from your spouse’s paycheck.
- Depositing your unemployment benefits in a separate account may help to protect other accounts you own or are linked to.
- Have you recently switched jobs? Creditors can get a new court order to garnish your wages when you switch employers. If you still have outstanding debts, you need to pay them off as quickly as possible to avoid these creditors from “chasing” you from employer to employer. For jobs that are financially-related (ie. banking), you may be required to disclose your financial history; wage garnishment may be a barrier to your employment, even if you’re making regular payments.
- Plan on missing your court date? If you don’t show up for your court date, the court will grant the creditor the full right to garnish your wages. You won’t have any say in the matter going forward.