How Long Can You Be Garnished?

When you owe a debt, your creditor may threaten to garnish your wages. In some cases, this threat is only an attempt to invoke fear. However, some companies follow through on the threat. To follow through, the company files a lawsuit against you. If you fail to pay off the lawsuit, the company goes back to court to request a “Writ of Garnishment.” Once a judge orders the garnishment, your options for decreasing the length of the garnishment are rather limited.

Until Debt Is Satisfied

When a judge grants a garnishment, the creditor has the right to continue garnishing your wages until the debt is paid in full. The length of the garnishment varies, based on how much money you make and the amount of money that is being deducted from each check. A creditor cannot garnish you for more than what your state garnishment laws allow. For many states, the cap is up to 25 percent of your disposable earnings.

Pay Off Early

If you wait for money to come out of your paycheck each pay period, you are at the mercy of the creditor regarding how long it takes your garnishment to be paid off. However, if you take matters into your own hands, the garnishment can end sooner. Contact the creditor and offer to pay off the debt in a lump sum. Some creditors even give you a lump sum settlement that is less than the original debt amount. Be sure to get every detail of the agreement in writing. By doing so, you have a means to prove that you met the terms of the agreement.

What Can't Be Garnished

Under the Federal Wage Garnishment Law, any “need-based” income that you receive cannot be garnished. Need-based income, for example, may include Social Security, Supplemental Security, VA benefits checks and welfare. If a garnishment is issued for need-based income, contact the creditor to advise him that the income you receive is exempt from garnishment. Ask the creditor to release the funds from garnishment. States also have rules, at the state level, regarding additional income types that can't be garnished.

Claim of Exemption

If a creditor refuses to stop garnishment on need-based income, you can request that the court reverse the garnishment. You can also request a reversal if, because of the garnishment, you are unable to pay for basic living expenses such as rent, utilities and groceries. To request a reversal, visit the presiding small claims court to complete a “Claim of Exemption.” Attend a hearing. At the hearing, the judge determines whether you meet the qualifications for exemption. If you meet the qualifications, the creditor receives notification and the garnishment is released.