Friday, May 9, 2014

"Will My Wages Be Garnished?"

At Davis Consumer Law Firm, that is the one of the top concerns coming from clients who are being harassed by debt collectors. If a debt collector threatens to garnish your wages in order to collect a debt, this could be serious business. What does that mean for you? You may now have a claim against that debt collector - they may have just violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, which could entitle you up to $1,000 in statutory damages.

In most states like New Jersey, UNLESS the creditor obtained a court judgment stating that you owe them money, creditors and debt collectors cannot threaten to garnish your wages. For instance, if you are behind on credit card payments or owe a doctor’s bill, those creditors cannot garnish your wages UNTIL they sue you and get a judgment. There are a few exceptions each state; defaulted student loans, child support orders and unpaid income taxes are some of the few types of debts where your wages are able to be garnished without a court judgment.  For residents and workers in Pennsylvania, a credit card company cannot garnish wages from their paycheck, regardless if there is court judgment or not. However, a credit card company can garnish their bank account, including deposited wages, only if the creditor has obtained a court judgment.

When we get calls to our firm, we frequently receive several questions regarding wage garnishment. To reassure many consumers out there, we have compiled a Q&A on this post to address some of the inquiries we receive:

What is wage garnishment?
A wage garnishment or wage attachment is an order from a court or a government agency that is sent to your employer. It requires your employer to withhold a certain amount of money from your paycheck for the payment of a debt.

Can I get fired by my employer if my wages are garnished?
Although debtors are often embarrassed because now their paycheck and employer are now involved, they cannot be terminated from their job due to wage garnishment. Title III of the federal Consumer Credit Protection Act (CCPA) protects employees from being discharged by their employers because their wages have been garnished for any one debt and limits the amount of employees' earnings that may be garnished in any one week. It should be noted that it does not protect an employee from discharge if the employee's earnings have been subject to garnishment for a second or subsequent debts.

Can my bank account or checking account be garnished?
In Pennsylvania and New Jersey, if the creditor has a court judgment against you, they can garnish your bank account for a consumer debt. If you are in Pennsylvania and your bank account is owned jointly by your spouse, they cannot garnish that bank account unless the judgment is against both spouses. In New Jersey, with prior notice to the consumer, creditors who have a judgment against you can seize joint accounts in their entirety or try what’s called a “bank freeze” or “bank levy”. This is where the creditor has the sheriff freeze your bank account. The non-debtor whose money is in the account will need to file a petition in the court for return of his/her funds.

Can they garnish my Social Security benefits?
A federal law (applying in all states) disallows creditors from garnishing your Social Security benefits.

What should I do if a debt collector threatens to garnish my wages?
Be sure to jot down the date and time they contacted you and the debt collector’s information (the individual’s name, phone number and the debt collection company). Give our firm a call (855) 432-8475 for a free case evaluation. If this is an FDCPA violation, you would be entitled to free legal representation and up to $1,000 in statutory damages. Even if it turns out not to be, this service is still 100% free. Regardless, we will fight diligently on your behalf to make the debt collector pays for harassment and breaking the consumer protection law.  Visit for more information on debt collection and consumer protection laws