If you are unable to pay your monthly bills because your wages are being garnished before you even get your paycheck, there may be solutions. Florida law limits the amount creditors can seize or “garnish” from your paycheck to repay your debts. It is important to know your rights, and to understand the limits on wage garnishment in Florida. First, what is wage garnishment? Wage garnishment, which also can be called “wage attachment,” is an order from the court or a government agency which directs your employer to withhold money from your paycheck and send it directly to a particular creditor. Generally, for a creditor to obtain this order, the creditor must have sued you and obtained a judgment against you. There are exceptions, however. Certain creditors can garnish your wages as a matter of law. These include:
- Internal Revenue Service for unpaid income taxes;
- State for court-ordered child support (all court orders for child support include an automatic income withholding order) The other parent can get one, too;
- State for child support arrearages; and
- Lenders for defaulted student loans.
Other creditors, such as credit card companies, medical offices and the like will first have to obtain a judgment against you in court before they can seek an order to garnish your wages. If they have an order garnishing your wages, that is a clear indication they have successfully sued you in court.
There are limits on garnishment amounts. In theory, you should have enough left over to pay your bills. However, that is not always the case. In Florida, which follows federal law, a creditor can garnish up to 25% of your disposal income or the amount by which your disposable income exceeds 30 times federal minimum wage, whichever is less. If your disposable income is less than 30 times the federal minimum wage, your wages cannot be garnished. (Disposable income means what’s left after your employer has made deductions required by law, like taxes, social security and unemployment insurance.)
Garnishment amounts for child support, income taxes and student loans in default are different.
Under federal law, your employer may not fire you just because you have one wage garnishment, but federal law may not protect you if you have more than one wage garnishment. Florida law does not offer additional protection, either. In fact, Florida allows employers to charge you for complying with wage garnishment orders. Your employer may charge up to $5 for the first garnishment and up to $2 for subsequent garnishments.
If your wages are being garnished by a credit card company, your doctor’s office or some other party who has sued you and obtained a judgment, there are two possible approaches to resolving the issue. One is called a “collateral attack.” This is a legal defense where you attempt to go back to court and attack the validity of the judgment itself. If, for instance, you were never properly served and did not receive notice that a lawsuit was being filed against you, or the judgment was entered against you when it should have been entered against someone else whose name is very similar to your name (a case of mistaken identity). Generally, a collateral attack can be a difficult defense unless the evidence is very strong in your favor.
Another successful approach in removing wage garnishments when a judgment has been entered against you could be bankruptcy. If the garnishment is such that you are unable to pay your living expenses, filing for bankruptcy will provide temporary and perhaps permanent relief from your most crushing debt. While it may not be a solution if your wages are being garnished to pay child support, income taxes or student loan debt, if you are buried under a mountain of credit card debt, unpaid medical bills and/or other judgments and do not know how you are ever going to get out from under it all, bankruptcy may be able to provide you with the fresh start you need.
If your wages are being garnished, it may be worth it for you to contact an attorney to discuss your options. This article is for general informational purposes only and does not contain all the details and exceptions of the law regarding wage garnishment. The facts of each case are unique. Sultana Law has helped others in similar situations and we would love to meet with you to discuss the facts in your particular case to see how we can help you. Contact us today for a free 30 minute consultation.