If you have delinquent debts, such as default loans, credit cards or medical bills, the creditor or debt collector can take legal measures to recover the balance due. If you are employed and qualify for head of household filing status under federal or state law, your wages can be garnished under certain circumstances.
Under federal law, you qualify for head of household tax filing status if you contribute more than 50 percent of the amount it takes to maintain a household for you and your qualifying dependents and if you are unmarried. State law may have separate requirements. For example, in California, you qualify for head of household filing status if have a qualifying individual who is also your relative and who satisfies the criteria for a qualifying child or qualifying relative and if you pay more than half of the cost needed to maintain the household that you and your qualifying individual lived in for more than six months.
If you qualify for head of household filing status and are employed, your wages can be garnished if the state you work in allows wage garnishments. A few states, such as South Carolina and Texas, do not allow creditors to garnish wages. Most states allow wage garnishments but set a general limit on the amount an employer can garnish; this limit applies to all employees, regardless of head of household status. A few states, such as Missouri and Florida, provide an exemption for the head of household.
Federal law requires your employer to withhold not more than the smaller of the amount by which your disposable earnings exceed 30 times the federal minimum hourly wage or 25 percent of your disposable pay. Some states adhere to this limit; some set a smaller amount. Among states providing exemption for head of household, the amount varies by state. For example, In Missouri, only 10 percent of your disposable income can be garnished if you are head of household. In Florida, all of your disposable income is exempt, except for disposable earnings exceeding $750 per week if you agree to the garnishment in writing.
Head of household exemptions do not apply to child support and tax debts. Your employer can deduct up to 50 or 60 percent of your pay for child support, plus an additional 5 percent for late support payments exceeding 12 weeks. It calculates an IRS tax levy as it does for other applicable employees – via Publication 1494 and the number of exemptions you claim on your statement of exemptions.
To garnish wages, a creditor must file a lawsuit against you, win a judgment from the court and apply for – and obtain – a writ of garnishment. You can check with your local courthouse for state garnishment laws concerning head of household to know if you qualify for an exemption.
- DebtSettlementLawyers: Missouri Wage Garnishment Laws
- Florida State Legislature: The 2010 Florida Statutes (including Special Session A)
- U.S. Department of Labor: Wage Garnishment
- California Franchise Tax Board: Head of Household Self-Test
- IRS: Form W-4
- FairDebtCollection: State Wage Garnishment and Attachment Rules
Grace Ferguson has been writing professionally since 2009. With 10 years of experience in employee benefits and payroll administration, Ferguson has written extensively on topics relating to employment and finance. A research writer as well, she has been published in The Sage Encyclopedia and Mission Bell Media.