No one likes to feel out of control, at the mercy of someone or something else through wage garnishment. Unfortunately, for thousands of workers in the United States, that is the reality of their financial situation. Through an invasive process known as “wage garnishment,” a single creditor may take a large percentage of a person’s paid wages. What’s more, garnishments are not limited to one creditor per person – multiple creditors may latch on to a single wage earner and sap separate percentages of that person’s wages.
Wage garnishment is far more common than most people realize. ADP, one of the largest payroll administration companies in the country, found that 7.2% of workers using their services had their wages garnished. That number rose to 10.5%, more than one in ten workers, in the population of 35-44 year-olds. (Source: https://www.adp.com/resources/articles-and-insights/articles/t/the-us-wage-garnishment-landscape-through-the-lens-of-the-employer.aspx)
While there is a federal limit on the maximum percentage that can be garnished from a person’s wages, garnishment is not limited to wages – bank accounts are also vulnerable to garnishment and are far less protected than wages. “Bank levies,” as they are called, allow creditors to tap directly into the bank accounts of the people that owe them money with much less oversight by the government.
Wage garnishment is a huge issue in the United States, where many people are living paycheck to paycheck. (Source: https://www.marketwatch.com/story/most-americans-are-one-paycheck-away-from-the-street-2016-01-06). Individual creditors who obtain garnishments typically do not care that taking a large percentage of a person’s paycheck will often take away their ability to make ends meet. In fact, while federal law will keep a worker with only one garnishment from being fired from his/her job, it will not prevent the same from happening to a worker with more than one garnishment.
How Does Wage Garnishment Work in Arkansas?
Wage garnishment typically happens when a creditor has sued a worker and gotten a judgment against the worker for a debt he/she owed. Next, the creditor has to get a second court order allowing for a wage garnishment. Finally, the sheriff usually has to serve the garnishment order on the worker’s employer, who then withholds part of the worker’s check for the creditor.
If money is owed for federal taxes, a court order is not required to garnish wages. In these cases, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) sends the debtor a Notice of Demand for Payment, followed by a Final Notice, giving the debtor 30 days to make restitution. If the payment, often called a levy, does not happen soon, the IRS will contact the worker’s employer and begin garnishment.
Once started, the garnishment will continue until the total amount owed to the creditor is paid off.
Can You Do Anything About Wage Garnishment?
Each state has its own garnishment laws. In Arkansas, workers basically have four options:
- Ask the creditor for proof of the debt and attempt to have the debt removed from the worker’s name through the civil court system. This is a very challenging route and is typically only successful in a case of mistaken identity by the creditor or identity theft of the worker.
- Respond to the court summons and argue that they don’t owe the debt. This is typically unsuccessful because most creditors will not sue unless they have solid proof that the worker owes the money.
- Explore all available alternatives, including settlement and debt consolidation. These options have a slightly higher chance of success than the previous two, but they still leave the worker exposed – there is no oversight by the court to keep the creditors from shadily bending the rules to better their position. The worker is still exposed to lawsuits from other creditors as well. These options depend on the reasonableness of the creditors, which is, honestly, not typically in their nature.
- File for bankruptcy and get a discharge. This option is the safest – it will block all creditors from obtaining and enforcing garnishments.
How to Effectively Stop Wage Garnishment
A little-known feature of the bankruptcy code, known as the “automatic stay,” can prevent all creditors from collecting any debt that a worker owes, in addition to stopping his/her wages from being garnished. The automatic stay goes into effect as soon as the person files for bankruptcy. It is a court order which stops all collection efforts against the worker, meaning that the bankruptcy court takes the worker under its protection and shields them from negative action by creditors. Wage garnishment is a collection action; so, the automatic stay instantly stops it. Creditors can ask the court to get rid of the stay, but it is incredibly rare for bankruptcy courts to do this.
As soon as a person files for bankruptcy, they must provide a list of his/her creditors to the court. The court will then send notice of the bankruptcy petition to those creditors, who must then stop all their collection efforts against the person. The process can even be sped up by delivering a copy of your bankruptcy filing directly to creditors. Most of the time, when a bankruptcy case ends, the court will discharge the debts of the person that filed. This means they are no longer responsible for the discharged debts – they no longer owe those creditors money. What this means is that the creditors won’t be able to go back to garnishing the worker’s wages or bank account – so, the automatic stay protects the worker from garnishment during the bankruptcy and the discharge keeps the creditor from being able to garnish again once the bankruptcy is over.
There are a few exceptions to the automatic stay, in which case the garnishment would continue. The most notable, and most common, is garnishments for child support. Because of the government’s interest in making sure children are supported, wage garnishments for child support continue, even when the automatic stay is in place.
Seeking legal advice is the best course of action because wage garnishment is itself a case-by-case issue. While there is a general process, you can see that it’s multi-step, detailed, and can be complicated with additional filing deadlines and paperwork.
However, just because the odds are stacked against workers to stop garnishments from being placed on their wages, that does not mean that they are powerless to stop it. If you’re having trouble paying your bills or making ends meet because of a wage garnishment, we can help. The first step to getting your creditors off your back, and stopping your wages from getting garnished, is giving us a call. If you need help, please don’t hesitate to text or call us.