Massachusetts Wage Garnishment Lawyer Protecting Your Paychecks
Many people in Massachusetts live paycheck-to-paycheck. These hardworking men and women need every dollar that they earn in order to cover their monthly living expenses. As a result, they can suffer immensely if a creditor begins to garnish their wages.
If your wages are being garnished, Benner Law can help. Tell us more about your situation so we can help you determine the best way to protect your paychecks.
What is Wage Garnishment?
Wage garnishment occurs when a creditor instructs your employer to withhold a certain percentage of each of your paychecks. The money that is withheld will be sent to the creditor and used to repay your debts. This ensures the money is sent directly to the creditor, so it never ends up in your hands.
When Can A Creditor Garnish Your Wages in Plymouth?
A creditor typically cannot begin to garnish your wages without a court order. This means the creditor must go to court and prove that you owe them money in order to start garnishing your wages. If the court rules in their favor, a judgment will be entered against you, which will allow the creditor to begin garnishing your wages.
However, there are a few exceptions to this rule. Your wages can be garnished without a court order for several types of debt, including income tax, child support, and alimony.
What Are the Wage Garnishment Limits in Massachusetts?
A creditor cannot take as much as they want from your paycheck even if they have obtained a court order. There are both federal and state laws that limit how much a creditor can take when garnishing your wages. However, the state laws are stricter than the federal laws. In Massachusetts, a creditor can only take:
- 15% of your pre-tax income, or
- Your disposable income less 50 times the state’s minimum hourly wage
These limits apply to most creditors. But again, these rules will not apply to child support or alimony debt.
What Steps Do Creditors Take to Garnish Wages?
To begin garnishing your wages, a creditor who has obtained a judgment against you must submit legal paperwork in the county where you are employed and then notify your employer. After they’ve been formally notified, employers are required by law to begin garnishing wages.
Wage garnishments inconvenience employers, but the federal Consumer Credit Protection Act offers some limited protection to employees. An employee cannot be retaliated against, disciplined, or terminated because his or her wages are being garnished – if it’s just for one debt.
However, if two or more creditors are simultaneously garnishing an employee’s wages, federal law does not prevent the employer from terminating that employee.
Can a Creditor Garnish Your Wages Without a Judgment?
Most creditors can’t garnish wages unless they first sue for the debt and then win a judgment from the court. However, the Internal Revenue Service, local and state tax and child support collectors, and the U.S. Department of Education may garnish wages without a judgment.
There are legal limits on how much of someone’s wages a creditor may garnish. The maximum amount that may be garnished is limited to twenty-five percent by the federal Consumer Credit Protection Act.
What Part of Your Wages May Be Garnished in Massachusetts?
But Massachusetts law gives wage earners even more protection. In this state, creditors in most cases can take no more than fifteen percent of someone’s wages. However, these limits may not apply to wages that are garnished by state agencies for alimony arrears or child support arrears.
Court orders for child support usually include an automatic wage garnishment order. Up to sixty percent of your disposable income may be garnished for child support payments.
The U.S. Department of Education – or an agency working on the Department’s behalf – can impose an “administrative” garnishment without a court judgment in order to collect student loan debt. The IRS can also garnish your wages for back income taxes without a court judgment.
What’s the Most Effective Way to Stop a Wage Garnishment?
Bankruptcy is a common and effective response to a wage garnishment. When you file for bankruptcy, an order for relief – an “automatic stay” – takes effect. The stay will prevent most creditors from continuing to garnish your wages and from taking any other action against you.
Bankruptcy has the additional benefit of removing creditors from your relationship with your employer, and it lets you make the decisions about how your debts are paid. However, a wage garnishment for child support or alimony will not be stopped by an automatic stay.
If you receive a debt discharge in a bankruptcy proceeding, and if the debt owed to the creditor who is garnishing your wages is included in that discharge, that creditor cannot continue to garnish your wages or harass you about payments.
However, if your bankruptcy petition is dismissed by the court without a discharge of your debts, the creditor may continue to garnish your wages after the petition’s dismissal.
Is Bankruptcy the Only Way to Stop a Wage Garnishment?
Bankruptcy is one response to a wage garnishment, but bankruptcy is not for everyone. If your wages are being garnished, discuss your circumstances with a Massachusetts bankruptcy attorney to determine if bankruptcy is your best option.
It is also actually possible that your wages are being garnished mistakenly or even illegally. That happens quite frequently. For example, if the party that is garnishing your wages is a debt purchasing company, you may not owe that company anything.
How Do Debt Purchasing Companies Operate?
Debt buying companies buy defaulted debts from banks. A debt buying company may claim that it legally purchased and owns a debt, but these companies are often unable to support their claims in court with the proper legal documentation.
Even if a debt buyer has the original documents, a court may not find the documents adequate or acceptable. There are several ways to dispute a debt buying company’s claim on a debt. A good Plymouth wage garnishment attorney will know what approach is most effective and appropriate.
If a creditor doesn’t take the right legal steps to have your wages garnished, the court may revoke its garnishment order. Creditors must file and notify you of a lawsuit, win a judgment against you, and notify you of the impending garnishment before any of your wages may be taken.
Missing any of these steps gives the court a sufficient reason to revoke its garnishment order. Of course, if you have already paid the debt, you will need to prove that you’ve paid it and – with your attorney’s help – request a hearing with the court that issued the garnishment order.
Filing for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy can stop wage garnishment. How? Filing for bankruptcy will trigger an automatic stay, which will temporarily stop all debt collection activities, including wage garnishment. This will give you more time to sort out your finances.
Filing for bankruptcy can also help if the wage garnishment is related to unsecured debts such as credit cards or medical debt. These debts are typically discharged during bankruptcy, which means you will no longer be liable to pay them after your case has been closed. As a result, creditors will no longer have the right to garnish your wages since the debt has been discharged.
Schedule A Free Consultation With a Wage Garnishment Attorney
Are your wages being garnished? Don’t let creditors take the money you work so hard to earn. If your wages are being garnished, talk to an experienced bankruptcy lawyer in Plymouth today. At Benner Law, we will work tirelessly to protect your rights and your wages. We have helped countless clients stop wage garnishment and secure their financial futures. Now, let us help you. Schedule a no-cost consultation with us today by calling 774-404-8321.