Can Creditors Garnish Wages? A Step-by-Step Guide How To

April 23, 2023

Wage garnishment is a legal process by which a creditor can collect a debt owed by an individual directly from their paycheck or bank account. This process is typically initiated by a court order, which authorizes the creditor to take a certain percentage of the individual's wages or salary until the debt is fully paid off.

It's important to note that wage garnishment is only legal under certain circumstances. For example, wage garnishment is generally only allowed for debts related to unpaid taxes, child support, or court judgments. Credit card debt and other forms of consumer debt typically cannot be collected through wage garnishment, unless the creditor first sues and wins a court judgment. There are four states (Pennsylvania, Texas, North Carolina, and South Carolina) where wage garnishment is prohibited for most types of judgments.

If you're struggling to collect a debt and want to seek wage garnishment, utilizing professional help is vital. Final Verdict Solutions is a judgment collection agency specializing in helping creditors collect debts through legal means, including wage garnishment. We can help you understand the complex legal process of wage garnishments.

Federal Law Limits on Wage Garnishment

Under federal law, there are limits to how much of an individual's wages can be garnished to satisfy a debt. The amount that can be garnished depends on the individual's disposable earnings, which is the amount of money they earn after deductions required by law, such as taxes and social security.

The maximum amount that can be garnished under federal law is 25% of the individual's disposable earnings, or the amount by which their disposable earnings exceed 30 times the federal minimum wage, whichever is less.

For example, if an individual earns $500 per week and the federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, their disposable earnings would be $340 per week ($500 - $160 in deductions). In this case, the maximum amount that could be garnished from their wages would be $85 per week (25% of $340).

It's important to note that the federal minimum wage plays a role in the garnishment. If an individual earns less than 30 times the federal minimum wage, their wages cannot be garnished. As of 2023, the federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, so an individual would need to earn less than $217.50 per week to be exempt from wage garnishment.

Overall, federal law protects individuals who may be subject to wage garnishment. However, it's essential to understand that most creditors are required to first sue and obtain a judgment prior to beginning a wage garnishment, with the exception of unpaid taxes and defaulted federal student loans. This is to protect the due process rights of the debtor.

Pillars of a federal court building.
The federal government has set limits on how much debt collectors may garnish your wages.

State Law Limits on Wage Garnishment

Wage garnishment laws vary by state, so it's essential to understand how your state's laws may affect your ability to collect on a debt. In general, state laws may differ from federal laws on wage garnishment, and some states may have more restrictive limits on the amount that can be garnished.

You must be aware of your state's rules and regulations regarding wage garnishment, as failure to follow these rules could result in legal consequences. For example, most creditors are be required to obtain a court order before they can garnish wages. There are a few exceptions. The IRS may initiate a wage garnishment without first going to court if you owe back taxes, although they provide numerous notices prior to doing so. The Department of Education is permitted to garnish 15% of your salary if you default on federal student loan payments, without a court order.

In the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, most judgment creditors are not permitted to garnish a debtor’s wages, even after going to court and winning a judgment in their favor. There is one key exception. A landlord who has gone to court and received a judgment arising from unpaid rent or physical damage to property on a residential lease has the right to initiate a “Notice of Intent to Attach Wages”. This Notice is served by the Sheriff to the Debtor, who then has thirty (30) days to object or file a Claim of Exemption with the Court. If the Debtor takes no action to claim an exemption under the law, the Creditor may obtain a Writ of Attachment directing the debtor’s employer to withhold 10% of the debtor’s wages or salary. This is far less than the 25% limit provided by federal law. In order to garnish wages, the judgment creditor must know the name and address of the debtor’s employer.  

If you're unsure about the wage garnishment laws in your state or if you need help navigating the legal process of wage garnishment, Final Verdict Solutions can help. Our team of experienced professionals regularly initiates wage garnishments as an effective debt collection strategy, while simultaneously ensuring compliance with all federal and state laws.

Several law books on a wooden bookshelf.
Upon receiving a court judgment, a debt collector may seek to have wages garnished up to state or federal limits.

Court Orders and Garnishment Orders

Court orders and garnishment orders are legal processes that allow creditors to collect on debts owed by debtors. Here's what you need to know:

Overview of Court Orders and Garnishment Orders

A court order is a legal document issued by a judge that requires a debtor to pay a certain amount of money to a creditor. A garnishment order, on the other hand, is a court order that allows a creditor to collect a debt by garnishing a debtor's wages or bank account. This is also called a “Writ of Attachment”, “Writ of Garnishment”, “Wage Execution Order”, or “Earnings Withholdings Order”.

Explanation of How Court Orders May be Obtained

To obtain a court order or garnishment order, a creditor must file a lawsuit against the debtor and win a judgment in court. Once a judgment is obtained, the creditor can seek a garnishment order to collect on the debt owed.

The Role of a Judgement Collection Agency in Obtaining Court Orders

Once a judgment is obtained, the judgment collection agency can seek a garnishment order to collect on the judgment. Final Verdict Solutions is highly skilled with this process and regularly obtains garnishment orders where permissible under law, to collect on judgments.

A phone being used as a calculator, in the palm of an individual's hand.
When pay periods cover more than one week, multiples of the weekly restrictions must be used to calculate the maximum amounts that may be garnished.

Wage Garnishment Procedures

Wage garnishment is a legal process that allows creditors to collect debts from a debtor's wages. The following steps explain how to garnish wages.

How to obtain a wage garnishment order

Before a creditor can garnish wages, they must obtain a court order. To get a wage garnishment order, the creditor must file a lawsuit against the debtor and obtain a judgment.

How to notify the employer and employee of the wage garnishment

Once the creditor has obtained a wage garnishment order, they must notify the debtor and the employer. The employer will receive an order to withhold a certain amount from the debtor's paycheck each pay period and send it to the creditor.

How to calculate the amount to be garnished

Federal and state laws limit the maximum amount that can be garnished from a debtor's wages. The amount that can be garnished varies depending on the state and the debtor's disposable earnings.

Disposable earnings are the amount of a debtor's paycheck left after mandatory deductions, such as taxes and Social Security. The maximum amount that can be garnished is generally 25% of disposable earnings, although it can be higher in certain cases.

How to handle lump sum payments and unpaid taxes

Sometimes, a debtor may receive a lump sum payment, such as a bonus or tax refund. If a wage garnishment is in effect, the creditor may be entitled to a portion of the lump sum payment. The creditor may also be able to garnish bank accounts or other assets to collect the debt.

Mention of garnishing bank accounts and how it differs from wage garnishment

Garnishing a bank account is similar to wage garnishment but involves freezing funds in a debtor's account. Creditors can obtain a court order to freeze the debtor's account and collect the debt directly from the account.

This process can be quicker and more efficient than wage garnishment, but collecting the total amount owed may also be more challenging.

It's important to note that wage and bank account garnishment is different. Creditors must obtain a separate court order for each type of garnishment.

A wooden gavel sitting on a green law book, on top of a pile of money.
Garnishment limits depend on the individual's disposable earnings.

Wage Garnishment Restrictions

There are certain restrictions in place to protect debtors from being left with nothing to live on.

Explanation of the restrictions on wage garnishment:

  • Federal and state laws limit the amount that can be garnished from a debtor's wages.
  • These laws ensure debtors have enough money to pay for necessities such as food, housing, and utilities.
  • There are also restrictions on the types of income that can be garnished, such as certain government benefits.

The weekly disposable income limit and how it affects wage garnishment:

  • Federal law limits the amount of disposable income that can be garnished each week, which is 25% of the debtor's disposable income or the amount by which their disposable income exceeds 30 times the federal minimum wage, whichever is less.
  • This means that creditors cannot take more than a certain percentage of a debtor's income, even if they owe a significant amount.
  • The disposable income limit prevents wage garnishment from causing extreme financial hardship for debtors and their families.

Overview of ordinary garnishments and their limitations:

  • Ordinary garnishments are court orders that allow creditors to garnish wages or bank accounts.
  • There are limitations on the amount that can be garnished and restrictions on the types of income and property that can be seized.
  • In addition, there are exceptions to wage garnishment, such as child support payments or unpaid taxes.

Overall, wage garnishment is a powerful tool for creditors to collect debts, but important restrictions and limitations are in place to protect debtors' rights and prevent undue financial hardship. It's important for debtors to understand their rights and options when facing wage garnishment and to seek professional help if needed.

A man opening his empty wallet to show no funds.
Garnishing bank account.

Exceptions to Wage Garnishment

Wage garnishment can be restricted in some instances, such as when specific exceptions apply. These exceptions include child support and alimony payments, living expenses, and medical bills. Wage garnishment is prohibited in four states (Pennsylvania, Texas, South Carolina, and North Carolina).

Social security and other government benefits may also be exempt from wage garnishment. It's essential to understand how these exceptions may affect wage garnishment and the amount that can be garnished from an employee's wages.


  • Wage garnishment is a legal process in which a portion of an individual's earnings is withheld to pay off debts.
  • Federal and state laws limit the amount that can be garnished from an individual's wages, and there are exceptions for certain types of debt.
  • Court orders and garnishment judgments are necessary to initiate the wage garnishment process.
  • It is best to negotiate a payment plan with a creditor to avoid wage garnishment.
  • Wage garnishment can significantly impact both debtors and creditors, and it is crucial to seek professional advice and explore all options before taking action.

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