Authored By: Legal Services Alabama
This fact sheet explains when someone can garnish your paycheck. It also explains what you can do to stop the garnishment.
Can someone garnish my paycheck without suing me first?
Usually not. Except for some debts to the government, you can only be garnished:
- If a creditor has already sued you, and
- You had a chance to respond, and
- The court has already entered a judgment against you.
The IRS and some other agencies can garnish you without suing first.
- They need to send you notice first.
- They need to give you a chance to challenge the debt.
- Usually, agencies do not garnish unless other attempts to get you to pay fail.
How much of my paycheck can be garnished?
Nothing, unless your take-home pay is at least $217.50 per week.
- Subtract from your gross income pay legally required deductions.
- These include all taxes, Social Security, and money put into retirement accounts.
If your take-home pay is more than that:
- No more than 25 percent of your pay can be garnished.
- But you must have at least $217.50 per week left.
- If the garnishment is for child support, up to half (50%) of your wages can be garnished.
- Sometimes, child support garnishments can even take 60 percent of your wages.
How does a wage garnishment work?
- The Court sends notice of a wage garnishment to you and to your employer.
- Your employer has up to a month to answer and start taking out your money.
- Your employer does not have to wait the month, however.
- The Court should also send you a copy of the answer of your employer.
- Anytime you receive garnishment papers, you should see a lawyer right away to see if you can protect your wages and other property.
How can I stop a wage garnishment?
You may be able to stop it by filing a claim of exemptions. This usually works if:
- You have a small income and don't have much other property.
- The judgment is on a debt or contract.
- The Court will give the creditor fifteen (15) days to challenge your exemption.
- The garnishment keeps going until the Court issues an Order, but afterward the wages withheld should be returned to you unless contested by the creditor.
- The Court may temporarily halt the garnishment during the 15 days if you file a special motion asking the Court to do so.
- For a form declaration of exemptions that you can fill in and file yourself, see the Declaration and Claim of Exemption for Wages (Request to Protect Wages).
- You can stop it by filing a bankruptcy.
- You get the creditor to release the garnishment.
- You should talk to a lawyer about how you can protect your wages.
Can a creditor garnish anything else?
- Yes. A creditor can try to serve garnishment papers on anyone who owes you money.
- Your bank account can be garnished, but some exemptions apply.
Reviewed May 2012
AlabamaLegalHelp.org offers legal information, not legal advice. We try hard to make sure this website accurately explains your rights and options. However, the site does not apply the law to your personal facts. For this sort of legal advice, you should call a lawyer. To apply for free legal services in Alabama, call the Legal Services Alabama office that is closest to where you live OR call toll-free 1-866-456-4995. You can also apply online at intake.alsp.org.