How much of my check can be garnished?

checkYou have just learned that one of your creditors is starting to take money out of your paycheck or even your bank account. This is called a garnishment. A garnishment is a legal procedure where a portion of your paycheck is taken for the payment of a debt. Garnishments are usually by a creditor that has a court order. Some government agencies can garnish your paycheck without a court order, for debts such as back taxes and student loans. Federal laws limit the amount that a person’s paycheck may be garnished. A garnishment applies to wages, salaries, commissions and bonuses.

The amount of pay subject to garnishment is based on your “disposable earnings,” which is the amount left after legally required deductions are made. Legally required deductions are federal, state, and local taxes, the employee’s share of social security, Medicare, State unemployment, and required employee retirement.  Federal law sets the maximum amount that may be garnished in any workweek or pay period regardless of the number of garnishment orders received by the employer. Garnishments may not exceed 25% of the employee’s disposable earnings, or the amount by which an employee’s disposable earnings are greater than 30 times the federal minimum wage (currently $7.25 an hour).

  • If the pay period is weekly and disposable earnings are $217.50 ($7.25 x 30) or less, there can be no garnishment.
  • If weekly disposable earnings are more than $217.50 but less than $290.00 ($7.25 x 40), the amount above $217.50 can be garnished ($72.50).
  • If the weekly disposable earnings are $290 or more, no more than 25% can be garnished.

There are exceptions to the garnishment limits. The limitations to wage garnishments do not apply to certain bankruptcy court orders or to debts due for federal or state taxes. If a specific state has a different wage garnishment law from Title III, then the law resulting in the lower amount of earnings being taken must be used.  Debts that are not related to taxes, but are owed to other federal agencies can be garnished up to 15% of disposable earnings to repay defaulted debts owed to the US government. The Higher Education Act authorizes the Department of Education’s guaranty agencies to garnish up to 10% of disposable earnings to repay defaulted federal student loans.

See chart below for different pay periods regarding garnishments:

Weekly Biweekly Semi-monthly Monthly
$217.50 or less:

 

No garnishment

$435.00 or less:

 

No garnishment

$471.25 or less:

 

No garnishment

$942.50 or less:

 

No garnishment

More than $217.50 but less than $290.00

 

Amount ABOVE

$217.50

More than $435 but less than $580

 

Amount ABOVE $435.00

More than $471.25 but less than $628.33

 

Amount ABOVE

$471.25

More than $942.50 but less than $1256.66

Amount ABOVE

$942.50

$290.00 or more

 

MAXIMUM 25%

$580.00 or more

 

MAXIMUM 25%

$628.33 or more

 

MAXIMUM 25%

$1256.66 or more

 

MAXIMUM 25%

 

*These limitations do not apply to certain bankruptcy court orders, or to garnishments to recover debts due for state or federal taxes. Different limitations may apply to garnishments for child support or alimony.

Certain federal benefits are automatically protected from being frozen or garnished if they are direct deposited into your bank account. Social Security/disability and VA are examples of such protected benefits. Your bank or credit union must automatically protect 2 months worth of Social Security or VA benefits from garnishment and let you use that money. If your account has more than 2 months worth of benefits, your bank can garnish or freeze the extra money.

If your benefits are on a prepaid card, they are still automatically protected from garnishment just like money in the bank. Examples of how this automatic protection works:

  • If you receive $1,000 in Social Security each month, your bank will see that $2,000 in Social Security was direct deposited in the last 2 months. The bank must allow you to use up to $2,000 in the account.
  • If you receive $1,000 in Social Security each month and have $3,000 in your bank account, the bank can freeze $1,000. The bank must give you access to the remaining $2,000 so you can continue to pay bills and withdraw cash as usual.

Social Security and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) can sometimes be garnished to pay certain government debts, such as back taxes or federal student loans, and debts for child or spousal support. Some benefits, such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI), are protected from garnishment even to pay a government debt or child or spousal support.

If you receive paper checks for your Social Security or VA, and then deposit the check into your bank account, the bank does not have to protect 2 months’ worth of benefits in the account automatically. This means your entire account balance could be frozen and you would need to go to court to prove that it comes from protected federal benefits and should not be garnished.