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Message #608 Wage garnishment

mp3 #608 What To Do About Wage Garnishment (mp3 file)


A debtor is a person who owes money to someone else. A creditor is a person to whom the money is owed. Wage garnishment takes place when part of a debtor's wages are deducted from his paycheck, and the money is paid to the creditor. Before any wages are taken from a debtor, a creditor will have already filed a lawsuit in court against the debtor. The debtor has an opportunity to answer the lawsuit and, of course, if the debtor does not agree with the creditor, the debtor may ask for a trial. If the court decides that the debtor does owe money to the creditor, the court issues a judgment against the debtor, for that amount of money. The creditor then must try to collect the money from the debtor. One of the most usual ways to collect the money is to obtain from the court what is called a writ of execution. This document is issued by the court, and directs some public officer, such as the marshal or sheriff, to take possession of some asset or property belonging to the debtor. The writ of execution also can authorize the officer to tell a debtor's employer to take part of the employee's wages from each paycheck, until the total amount of the money judgment has been paid to the creditor. There are limitations on how much or each paycheck may be taken. Usually no more than 25% of each paycheck is garnished and turned over to the creditor.

Sometimes if 25% is taken from your paycheck, it means that you do not have enough left to provide for your family. The law provides that, in such cases, you may file with the court what is called a claim of exemption. This claim, which you can get from the officer and give back to the officer, will state the amount of money necessary for you and your family to live. When your creditor receives notice from the officer that a claim of exemption has been filed, the wages which have been taken from you may be returned to you, if your creditor does not file a counter-claim within a specified time, the wages which have been attached are returned to you. If your creditor does file a counter-claim, the court will set a date for a hearing. The judge will then determine whether your wages will be released to your creditor or to you. If the original bill that your creditor is trying to collect was for your necessities of life, such as medical services, food, clothing, or housing, the law does not permit you to make a claim of exemption, and your creditor will be allowed to keep the money that has already been collected from you, and the garnishment of your wages will continue until the judgment is paid.

The best way for you as a debtor to keep from having your wages garnished is to pay off your creditor, or make acceptable arrangements for installment payments to your creditor, and then regularly make the payments. If you do not agree that you owe the money to your creditor, your dispute should be heard in court so that the judge can decide whether your creditor's claim is correct or not, before the judgment is entered. Once a judge has made a judgment, your best course of action is to pay the amount of the judgment to your creditor, or make satisfactory arrangements with your creditor for regular installment payments. Remember that in any stage of the proceedings, satisfactory installment payments to your creditor will avoid wage garnishment, since your creditor is the only one who can start the garnishment proceedings.

As a debtor, you may also consider the possibility of filing bankruptcy, to relieve yourself of certain financial obligations. For further information on bankruptcy, please refer to the SmartLaw messages on the subject of bankruptcy, # 601 and #602. Some of the procedures are quite technical and complicated, and you may want to talk to an attorney to help you.

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