Judgment creditors or people who have filed a lawsuit against you and won can garnish or take money from your paycheck. Wage garnishment happens when the due legal process deems the creditors to have a statutory right to collect money directly from you for child support, tax payment, or student loans. However, they can’t take it all as the law limits the percent a creditor can garnish.
The good thing is that you can take steps to stop the garnishment. For example, you can claim an exemption with the court. Depending on the circumstances, you may be able to keep the total or partial amount of your wages. Alternatively, you can file for bankruptcy with the help of a Massachusetts bankruptcy law firm to stop most garnishments.
What is Wage Garnishment in Massachusetts?
Wage garnishment, also known as wage attachment, is an order that requires an employer to withhold a specific amount of money from your wages. The employer then sends the money directly to one of your creditors. However, a creditor can’t garnish your wages without a money judgment from a court.
For example, if you’ve not been remitting your credit card payments, the creditor can’t garnish your wages unless they sue you for settlement. However, some creditors don’t have to file a suit to garnish your wages. These include those you owe child support, federal student loans, taxes, and alimony. These classes have a statutory right to get money from your paycheck.
What are Massachusetts Wage Garnishment Limits?
In Massachusetts, different rules stipulate the limits on wage garnishment. For example:
- Judgment creditors can only garnish up to 25 percent of your disposable weekly earnings (your take-home wage after the mandatory deductions) or
- The total by which your income is 30 times more than the national minimum wage, whichever is lower, according to 15 U.S.C. § 1673.
Mandatory deductions from your paycheck include state unemployment insurance, federal and state taxes, the required retirement deductions, and Social Security. The deductions exclude voluntary deductions like life and health insurance, saving plans, and charitable donations.
Limits on Wage Garnishment for Student Loan Debts
Anyone collecting defaulted payments for student loans on behalf of the U.S. Department of Education can only garnish up to 25% of the disposable income. The agency doesn’t have to sue you first for a judgment to garnish. However, they must furnish you with a garnishment notice ahead of time. A wage garnishment lawyer in Plymouth can help you evaluate your options.
Limits on Wage Garnishment for Tax Debts
Taxing authorities use different limits in determining wage garnishments. According to the IRS, some determining factors are your number of dependents and your standard deduction amount. Similarly, taxing authorities have their formulas. The IRS will typically send you a notice before it starts garnishing your wages and it doesn’t have to obtain a judgment first.
Wage Garnishment Limits for Child Support or Alimony
All new and modified child support orders since 1988 include an automatic wage withholding order, even for non-delinquent child support. Your employer will withhold the child support amount from your paycheck and remit the money directly to the other parent. They will also deduct health insurance coverage for your child from your paycheck if it’s your responsibility.
The limit for wage garnishment for child support is up to 50% of your disposable income. That applies if you’re currently supporting a child or spouse who isn’t the subject of the order. If you’re not supporting a child or spouse, the limit can be up to 60% of your earnings.
You risk having an additional 5% taken if you’re in arrears for more than 12 weeks. Let a wage garnishment lawyer in Plymouth help you negotiate a more favorable garnishment amount.
Can the State Provide Limits for Wage Garnishments?
The state has more freedom to provide more protection to debtors in wage garnishment cases than the federal government. The federal government can’t offer lower limits than the federal law stipulates. In Massachusetts, the state allows judgment creditors to garnish only up to 15% of your wages. A Massachusetts wage garnishment attorney can guide you on the state garnishment rules that apply to your case.
When Are My Wages Exempt from Garnishment?
Some federal exemptions protect your income from wage garnishment. For example, creditors can’t garnish your income from federal disability programs. Other government-provided incomes exempt from garnishments include incomes from the following sources:
- Unemployment benefits
- Supplemental Security Income (S.S.I.) benefits
- Disability benefits
- Social Security benefits
- Retirement income
- Life insurance
- Compensation benefits
Your alimony and child support payments are exempt from garnishments, including expenses for adult dependents. That means that less of your income is available for garnishment.
How Can I Protect My Wages From Garnishment
When faced with a wage garnishment case, knowing your rights is crucial. You probably have an income the law protects even if your creditor takes you to court for non-payment of debt.
When a creditor goes to court, you can fight the court case with the help of a wage garnishment attorney in Plymouth. They can help you show that you have no wages that creditors can garnish if your income falls in one or more of the exempt classes.
If your employer withholds money from your paycheck for any effective garnishment, you also have a right to contest during a court hearing. You can also challenge financial institutions that garnish any exempt income or removes it from your bank account. However, the IRS is exempt from such a contest if you have unpaid taxes.
A Bankruptcy Attorney Fighting to Protect You from Wage Garnishment
Several legal options are available for you when faced with a wage garnishment case. You can work out a payment plan with your creditors. If this fails, you can take the bankruptcy route to help eliminate the many debts causing you to fall behind on payments and causing wage garnishment.
Filing for bankruptcy can protect some incomes like Social Security, which is exempt from garnishment. Our Massachusetts bankruptcy law firm can help you discharge your debts.
We can help you determine the exemptions applicable to your case. Contact our office to schedule an initial FREE case assessment for the way forward.