Wage garnishment, as described by the U.S. Department of Labor, is a legal procedure in which a person’s earnings are required by court order to be withheld by an employer for the payment of a debt. Approximately 7% of employees in 2016 were carrying an average of 1.6 garnishments, according to a report by ADP Research Institute, and 71% of these workers were men. The top reason for garnishment was child support, followed by student loans and consumer debts, tax levies, and bankruptcy.
Examining consumer debt further, the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau found $88 billion in medical debt on consumer credit reports as of June 2021. Past-due debt on credit reports can lower credit scores. In turn, negative credit scores can reduce people’s access to credit, making it harder to buy a home or find a job.
Debtors may request loan forgiveness with the assistance of a knowledgeable consumer lawyer. However, child support payments, alimony, and federal student loans are not eligible for loan forgiveness and are subject to automatic wage garnishment. Other debts are processed through Florida’s civil courts.
How the Court Orders Wage Garnishment
If a person fails to pay a bill in a timely fashion, the creditor will either try to reach the person directly or hire a debt collector to contact the person. If this approach does not result in payment, the creditor may hire a debt collection attorney.
The debt collection attorney, representing the creditor (referred to as the plaintiff) will file a lawsuit against the debtor (referred to as the defendant). The defendant will receive a notice of the lawsuit. It is up to the defendant to respond to the notice and appear in court, where the judge may dismiss the case or oversee a settlement between the parties.
If the defendant does not respond, the judge usually rules for the plaintiff. This may seem unfair, but consider it from a human perspective. If debtors don’t defend themselves, or have a debt lawyer defend them, then the judge only sees, and agrees with, the party that is standing before the court—the creditors.
At this point, the judge issues a default judgment and orders the defendant to pay the plaintiff. The plaintiff has 20 years to seek payment from the defendant. The defendant can either pay the debt willingly, or the defendant can pay the debt unwillingly, through wage garnishment or seizure of bank accounts and property.
Note that a collection agency does not need a court order to garnish wages for child support payments, student loans, or federal taxes.
Wage Garnishment and Florida Law
Guided by the federal Consumer Credit Protection Act, Florida statutes limit the amount that a creditor can garnish from a debtor’s wages. After Social Security, federal tax, and other legally required deductions are subtracted from a person’s salary, the wage is considered disposable income.
The total wage garnishment that creditors may take is one of the following amounts, whichever is less:
- 25% of the weekly disposable income, or
- the amount that the weekly disposable income exceeds 30 times the federal minimum wage
The current federal wage is $7.25 per hour, which equates to $217.50 per week. If the weekly disposable income is less than $217.50, the wages cannot be garnished.
Some income—such as veteran’s benefits, worker’s compensation, Social Security benefits, and pensions—is exempt from garnishment.
Head of Family Exemption: In Florida, a head of family who receives a weekly salary of $750 or less after legal deductions is exempt from wage garnishment. A head of family who has greater disposable earnings of $750 weekly cannot have wages garnished unless he or she consents to the garnishment in writing. The State of Florida defines “head of family” as a person who provides more than one-half of the support for a minor child or other dependent.
Employers and Wage Garnishment
Recognizing the administrative burden that is placed on employers to follow a court order, Florida allows employers to charge a small fee to employees whose wages are being garnished.
Federal law prohibits employers from firing employees for one wage garnishment, but if an employee has more than one wage garnishment, Florida allows the employer to terminate the worker.
A civil lawyer can provide advice on wage garnishments, exemptions, and employment protections in Florida.
The Santos Law Offices, PA: Helping People Eliminate Debt and Protect What They Own
Have creditors frozen your bank accounts? Have debt collectors threatened you with wage garnishment or are currently garnishing your wages? It helps to have someone on your side during a difficult time. Speak with an experienced credit lawyer at The Santos Law Offices, PA. Our team can help you apply for loan forgiveness, prepare your documents for court review, and negotiate with your creditors to achieve a reasonable settlement.
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