Objecting to a Wage Garnishment

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

Updated by , Attorney · University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law

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. Also, in most cases, filing for bankruptcy can help because bankruptcy's "automatic stay" stops most wage garnishments immediately.

This article explains how to object to a wage garnishment, stop a wage garnishment with bankruptcy's automatic stay, and wipe out your debt with a bankruptcy discharge.

How Wage Garnishments Start

A judgment creditor must file papers with the court to start the garnishment process. 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 claiming an 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). You must file a written objection to get a court hearing on your objection.

Reasons to Object to the Garnishment

Some of the reasons you might want to object to a wage garnishment include the following:

  • Some or all of your earnings are exempt under federal or state law.
  • 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 bankruptcy.

If you don't state your reasons for objecting to the garnishment or don't file an objection on time, you may waive the right to fight the garnishment later. Therefore, you must 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, including a form stating 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.

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.

You shouldn't have to pay a fee to file the objection. 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 garnishment hearing's date, time, and place. Contact the court clerk to obtain the information if you don't get such a notice.

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 must explain your calculations. It is a good idea to bring supporting documents such as pay stubs and proof of payments you've made toward the judgment.

The court will not allow you to argue about the debt's validity 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.

A judge or magistrate who agrees with you will accept or "sustain" your objection. If that happens, the garnishment amount may be either reduced or canceled in full. A judge who doesn't agree with you 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 might not have as much time to do so, and your available defenses or exemptions might be limited.

Tax Garnishments

If you owe IRS taxes, you should receive a Notice of Intent to Levy. You then have some time to claim special exemptions based on your household size and income, which differ from the standard federal and state wage exemptions. If you owe state or local taxes, research those laws to find the procedure for challenging the garnishment.

Student Loan Garnishments

Procedures for challenging student loans are different, too. Typically, 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 from normal state and federal exemption limits, as well, and can be more generous.

How Bankruptcy's Automatic Stay Stops Wage Garnishments

Shortly after filing, the bankruptcy court tells your creditors to stop collecting against you. Your creditors will receive a letter informing them of your bankruptcy case and other important dates, like the 341 meeting of creditors, the one appearance all filers must attend. The letter also includes the automatic stay order directing creditors to stop collection actions.

Because the letter can take a week or so to reach creditors, you or your bankruptcy lawyer will want to notify your employer of the automatic stay. A quick email or fax with the filing date and case number will work to stop your wage garnishment.

However, the automatic stay doesn't work on all wage garnishments. For instance, support obligations will remain in place. Also, if you've filed for bankruptcy before, the automatic stay might not remain in effect long. Learn about exceptions to the automatic stay.

Bankruptcy Discharges Wage Garnishment Debts

You'll probably be able to erase the underlying garnishment debt and any credit card balances, medical and utility bills, court judgments, and other obligations typically erased in bankruptcy.

But you might not be completely debt-free. You'll still owe "nondischargeable debts" after a Chapter 7 case. In Chapter 13, most nondischargeable debts are calculated into the Chapter 13 plan. Support obligations, recent taxes, and debts related to driving under the influence are examples of nondischargeable debt.

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 determine how and when to raise an objection. You should also contact your court clerk's office for additional forms and information. It is also good to consult with a local attorney to discuss your other options, including filing bankruptcy, which can stop the garnishment.

Navigating Your Bankruptcy Case

Bankruptcy is essentially a qualification process. The laws provide instructions for completing a 50- to 60-page bankruptcy petition, and because the rules apply to every case, you can't skip a step. We want to help.

Below is the bankruptcy form for this topic and other resources we think you'll enjoy. For more easy-to-understand articles, go to TheBankruptcySite.

Additional Bankruptcy Resources

Bankruptcy Forms

Downloadable Bankruptcy Forms

Chapters 7 and 13 Bankruptcy Form List

Bankruptcy Document Checklist

Related Information

Should I Ignore a Debt Collector's Calls and Letters?

Keeping a Credit Card in Chapter 7 Bankruptcy

Can I Keep My House If I File for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy?

What Happens in Bankruptcy If I Am on the Deed to Someone Else's Home?

How to File Bankruptcy Without Losing a Car

What Happens to Your Property in Bankruptcy?

We wholeheartedly encourage research and learning, but online articles can't address all bankruptcy issues or the facts of your case. The best way to protect your assets in bankruptcy is by consulting with a local bankruptcy lawyer.

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