Objecting to a Wage Garnishment

If a judgment creditor is trying to garnish your wages, you can challenge it by filing an objection.

If a judgment creditor is trying to garnish your wages, you can challenge it by filing an objection. The procedure to challenge a wage garnishment depends on the laws of your state, your court's procedures, and the type of debt you owe. Read on to learn more.

(To learn more about what wage garnishments are, federal and state limits on wage garnishments, and more, visit our Wage Garnishment topic page.)

How Wage Garnishments Start

To start the garnishment process, a judgment creditor must file papers with the court. When that happens, you should receive a notice advising you of the garnishment and what happens next.

If you have grounds to object to the garnishment (such as making a claim of exemption for part or all of your wages), you must file a written objection as soon as possible. Often, you have somewhere between five and 30 days to object (the wage garnishment notice should tell you the exact number of days). In order to get a court hearing on your objection, you must file a written objection.

Reasons to Object to the Garnishment

Below are some of the reasons you may want to object to a wage garnishment.

  • some or all of your earnings are exempt under federal or state law (see Federal Limits on Wage Garnishments to learn more).

  • You have already paid the judgment or it has been satisfied some other way.

  • You are in a payment plan with the creditor and have not defaulted on the agreed-upon payments.

  • You are currently in bankruptcy or have discharged the debt in a bankruptcy.

If you do not state your reasons for objecting to the garnishment or do not file an objection on time, you may waive the right to fight the garnishment later. Therefore, it is extremely important that you file a written objection as soon as possible after receiving the notice.

How to Make Your Objection

Your objection should be in writing. Usually, you will receive paperwork from the court that includes a form for you to state your reasons for objecting to the garnishment. If the court does not provide you with a form, you should write out your written objection and make sure it is filed with the court. You should not have to pay a fee for filing the objection.

The written objection should include:

  • the case number (a unique set of numbers or letters specific to your case)

  • your name, address, and phone number

  • a detailed explanation of your reasons for challenging the garnishment

  • a request for a hearing if the court has not already set a hearing date
  • if you are claiming exemptions, a calculation of the exemptions, and
  • your signature.

Once you file your objection, the next step is to attend the hearing on the garnishment.

The Garnishment Hearing

You should get a notice informing you of the date, time, and place of the garnishment hearing. If you don't get such a notice, the clerk of the court to obtain the information.

Show up at the appointed place on time. At the hearing, be prepared to discuss your objection to the garnishment. If you have claimed an exemption against your wages, you will need to explain your calculations. It is a good idea to bring supporting documents such as pay stubs and proof of payments you've made towards the judgment.

The court will not allowed you to argue about the validity of the debt. That is because the creditor has already obtained a judgment declaring the debt valid. The only issue at the hearing is whether you have a proper claim of exemption or other legal basis for challenging the garnishment procedure.

If the judge or magistrate agrees with you, he or she will accept (or "sustain") your objection. If that happens, the amount of the garnishment may be either reduced or canceled in full. If you are unable to get the court to agree with you, then it will overrule your objection and the garnishment will proceed.

Garnishments for Certain Debts

The process for challenging a wage garnishment is different if you owe taxes or student loans. While you still have a right to dispute the garnishment, you may not have as much time to do so, and may be limited as to your available defenses or exemptions.

Tax Garnishments

If you owe IRS taxes, you should first receive a Notice of Intent to Levy. You then have a certain amount of time to claim special exemptions based on your household size and income (which is different than the standard federal and state wage exemptions). If you owe state or local taxes, research those laws to find out the procedure for challenging the garnishment.

Student Loan Garnishments

Procedures to challenge student loans are different, too. Normally, you have 30 days to object and request a hearing. You can also request hardship relief, such as a new payment plan. Your exemptions are different than normal state and federal exemptions limits, as well, and can actually be more generous. You can only be garnished up to 10% on defaulted federal student loans.

More Information

Garnishment procedures can vary widely, depending on where you live and what type of debt you owe. You should research your state's laws to find out how and when you should raise an objection. You should also contact your court's clerk's office for additional forms and information. It is also a good idea to consult with a local attorney to discuss your other options, including filing bankruptcy, which can also stop the garnishment.

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