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What are my wage garnishment rights?

If you are struggling to make ends meet, the last thing you need is for your take-home pay to get any smaller. Nevertheless, this is always a danger if you fall behind on your debts and a creditor takes you to court.

A creditor who successfully sues you for an unpaid debt may be able to garnish your wages to reclaim what you owe. This can be devastating to your fragile budget, and you may want to seek legal advice on how to protect your rights.

Creditors withholding your pay

Wage garnishment simply means that your employer must take part of your pay and divert it to the person you owe until you have resolved the debt. The most common debts that result in garnishment are the following:

  • Taxes
  • Student loans
  • Child support
  • Spousal support
  • Medical bills
  • Credit cards and other consumer debt

If a creditor intends to take this route to satisfy a debt, you will have to go to court. If the judge rules in favor of your creditor, the court will notify you, your bank and your employer of the impending garnishment. Within the next month, the garnishment will begin, and money will come out of your paycheck until you have paid off what you owe plus any interest and court fees.

How much?

The amount of money a creditor can claim from your paycheck varies, depending on the kind of debt involved. The federal government places limits on the total a creditor can take from your disposable income -- that is, the amount left over after taxes and other deductions.

The limit for most consumer debt is 25 percent, depending on the amount of your weekly income. Student loans and taxes cannot exceed 15 percent of your income, but child support and alimony may reach as high as 60 percent of your disposable income. An additional hardship is that your Tennessee employer can fire you if you incur multiple garnishments.

Options?

There are ways you can protect yourself during the garnishment process. For example, you may be able to challenge the court's ruling or negotiate with the creditor to avoid the garnishment. If you agree that you owe the money, you may try obtaining a loan to pay off what you owe, but this may dig you deeper into a financial hole. Seeking advice from a legal professional may provide you with alternatives such as bankruptcy, which can immediately stop any garnishment action.

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