Which States Are Protecting Citizens From Wage Garnishment?

By:  Lyle Daly | Published June 24, 2020

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Teen boy using his phone and holding a credit card in the city.

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The novel coronavirus pandemic has put many people in difficult financial situations. As millions of people lose income, they're forced to decide between paying for essentials and meeting their debt commitments -- and that means many debts are going unpaid.

One tactic that lenders have available to them in many states is wage garnishment. But what, exactly, is wage garnishment? How does it work? And how much of your wages can debt collectors take in your state?

We took a look at every state in the country to find out.

Key findings

  • 10 states and the District of Columbia have either suspended wage garnishment or blocked new wage garnishments during the COVID-19 national emergency.
  • Four states don't allow wage garnishment for consumer debts.
  • 36 states haven't changed the laws on wage garnishment for consumer debts during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

What is wage garnishment?

For those with unpaid consumer debt (like credit card debt or payday loans), wage garnishment is one costly possible outcome. If a creditor gets a judgment in its favor, federal law allows garnishment of up to 25% of the debtor's disposable earnings. This money is taken out of their paycheck by their employer and sent to the creditor. According to a 2013 ADP study, about 3% of employees have wages garnished because of consumer and student debt, and 7.2% had wages garnished overall.

That's a big chunk of your paycheck that could be taken away. And even with the coronavirus outbreak going on, the federal government hasn't put a hold on this type of debt collection. But states can also pass their own debt collection laws, and several have set stricter limits on how much creditors can take or have added new protections during the pandemic. While many states have also put in provisions to protect stimulus checks from debt collection, we'll be focusing on wage garnishment protections here.

Wage garnishment laws

Per federal law, 75% of your disposable earnings or 30 times the federal minimum wage, whichever is greater, is exempt from wage garnishment for ordinary garnishments, which includes consumer debt. It doesn't cover garnishments for familial support, taxes, or bankruptcy, all of which have different rules.

Let's say you have $500 of disposable earnings per week. The greater of the following two amounts would be exempt:

  • 75% of $500, which is $375
  • 30 times the federal minimum wage (currently $7.25 an hour), which is $217.50

Since $375 is the greater amount, that's how much of your earnings would be exempt, meaning $125 could be taken from your weekly pay. If, on the other hand, you earn $217.50 per week or less, then your wages can't be garnished at all.

Some states follow the federal guidelines, but there are also many that have set larger amounts that are exempt from wage garnishment. A few have even prohibited wage garnishment for consumer debt entirely. Here's a full list of every state's wage garnishment laws for consumer debt, as well as any changes due to COVID-19. Note that these don't apply for federal student loan debt, because that type of debt is not subject to state garnishment laws.

Alabama

$1,000 per paycheck or the first 75% of disposable earnings, whichever is greater, is exempt from wage garnishment. This exemption applies to every paycheck, regardless of how often the debtor is paid. However, Alabama doesn't allow debtors to accumulate more than $1,000 in wages. If a debtor doesn't spend their full paycheck and accumulates more than $1,000 in wages, they can't continue claiming the exemption.

Alaska

$473 per week, $743 per week if the debtor's earnings alone support their household, or the first 75% of disposable earnings, whichever is greater, is exempt from wage garnishment.

Arizona

Follows federal wage garnishment guidelines.

Arkansas

Follows federal wage garnishment guidelines unless the debtor is a laborer or mechanic, in which case 60 days of wages are exempt, and after that, the first $25 earned per week is also exempt from wage garnishment.

California

75% of disposable earnings or 40 times the state's minimum wage, whichever is greater, is exempt from wage garnishment.

Colorado

Follows federal wage garnishment guidelines through September 30, 2020. For garnishments issued on or after October 1, 2020, 80% of disposable earnings or 40 times the federal or state minimum wage, whichever is greater, is exempt from wage garnishment.

Connecticut

75% of disposable earnings or 40 times the federal or state minimum wage, whichever is greater, is exempt from wage garnishment.

Delaware

85% of disposable earnings or 30 times the federal minimum wage is exempt from wage garnishment.

District of Columbia

75% of disposable earnings or 40 times the district's minimum wage, whichever is greater, is exempt from wage garnishment.

Wage garnishment is suspended effective March 11, 2020 for the duration of the public health emergency and for 60 days after its conclusion.

Florida

Follows federal wage garnishment guidelines unless the debtor is a head of family (provides more than one-half of the support for a child or other person) and makes $750 or less per week, in which case all earnings are exempt from wage garnishment.

Georgia

Follows federal wage garnishment guidelines.

Hawaii

Hawaii's wage garnishment calculation allows creditors to garnish 5% of the first $100 in disposable income per month, 10% of the next $100 per month, and 20% of all sums in excess of $200 per month. If this amount is greater than the amount that would be garnished under the federal guidelines, then the federal guidelines must be used.

Idaho

Follows federal wage garnishment guidelines.

Illinois

85% of disposable earnings or 45 times the state's minimum wage, whichever is greater, is exempt from wage garnishment.

Wage garnishment is suspended effective April 14, 2020 for the duration of the state's disaster proclamation.

Indiana

Follows federal wage garnishment guidelines unless the debtor can prove with good cause that the amount should be reduced, in which case it can be set to under 25%, but no less than 10%, of the debtor's disposable income.

Iowa

The maximum amount that can be garnished per year is based on the debtor's income as follows:

  • Below $12,000: Up to $250
  • $12,000 to $15,999: Up to $400
  • $16,000 to $23,999: Up to $800
  • $24,000 to $34,999: Up to $1,500
  • $35,000 to $49,999: Up to $2,000 may be garnished
  • $50,000 and above: No more than 10% of wages may be garnished

Wage garnishment was temporarily suspended on April 24, 2020, but that suspension ended on May 27, 2020.

Kansas

Follows federal wage garnishment guidelines.

Kentucky

Follows federal wage garnishment guidelines.

Wage garnishments are suspended for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Louisiana

Follows federal wage garnishment guidelines.

Maine

75% of disposable earnings or 40 times the federal or state minimum wage, whichever is greater, is exempt from wage garnishment.

Maryland

Follows federal wage garnishment maximums.

Massachusetts

85% of disposable earnings or 50 times the federal or state minimum wage, whichever is greater, is exempt from wage garnishment.

New wage garnishments can't be initiated until 90 days after the state's state of emergency ends, but garnishments that began before March 26 can continue.

Michigan

Follows federal wage garnishment guidelines.

Minnesota

75% of disposable earnings or 40 times the federal minimum wage, whichever is greater, is exempt from wage garnishment.

Wage garnishment is suspended effective May 4, 2020 until the end of the state's COVID-19 peacetime emergency.

Mississippi

The first 30 days of wages after the garnishment order is served are exempt from wage garnishment. After that federal wage garnishment guidelines apply.

Missouri

Follows federal wage garnishment guidelines except when the debtor is the head of the household, in which case 90% of disposable income or 30 times the federal minimum wage, whichever is greater, is exempt from wage garnishment.

Wage garnishment was suspended starting on May 7, 2020, but that suspension ended on May 31, 2020.

Montana

Follows federal wage garnishment guidelines.

Nebraska

Follows federal wage garnishment guidelines except when the debtor is the head of the household, in which case 85% of disposable income or 30 times the federal minimum wage, whichever is greater, is exempt from wage garnishment.

Nevada

The greater of the following amounts is exempt from wage garnishment:

  • 82% of disposable earnings if the debtor's gross weekly wages are $770 or less
  • 75% of disposable earnings if the debtor's gross weekly wages exceed $770
  • 50 times the federal minimum wage

Wage garnishment is suspended effective April 30, 2020 and until the state of emergency related to the COVID-19 pandemic terminates or expires.

New Hampshire

75% of disposable earnings or 50 times the federal minimum wage, whichever is greater, is exempt from wage garnishment. New Hampshire doesn't allow for continuous garnishment, so a creditor must file in court for each new paycheck it wants to garnish.

New Jersey

90% of income is exempt from wage garnishment if the debtor's earnings are less than 250% of the federal poverty level; 75% of income is exempt from wage garnishment if the debtor's earnings are more than 250% of the federal poverty level.

New Mexico

75% of disposable earnings or 40 times the federal minimum wage, whichever is greater, is exempt from wage garnishment.

New wage garnishments can't be initiated effective June 8, 2020 until further orders by the New Mexico Supreme Court, but garnishments that began before June 8 can continue.

New York

The greater of the following amounts is exempt from wage garnishment:

  • 90% of the debtor's gross earnings
  • 75% of the debtor's disposable earnings
  • 30 times the federal minimum wage

North Carolina

Wage garnishment for consumer debt is not permitted.

North Dakota

75% of disposable earnings or 40 times the federal minimum wage, whichever is greater, is exempt from wage garnishment. An additional $20 per week is exempt for each dependent family member who resides with the debtor.

Ohio

Follows federal wage garnishment guidelines.

Oklahoma

Follows federal wage garnishment guidelines.

Oregon

75% of disposable earnings or one of the following amounts based on the debtor's pay frequency, whichever is greater, is exempt from wage garnishment:

  • $254 per week
  • $509 per any two-week period
  • $545 for any half-month period
  • $1,090 for any one-month period

Pennsylvania

Wage garnishment for consumer debt is not permitted.

Rhode Island

Follows federal wage garnishment guidelines.

South Carolina

Wage garnishment for consumer debt is not permitted.

South Dakota

80% of disposable earnings or 40 times the federal minimum wage, whichever is greater, is exempt from wage garnishment. An additional $25 per week is exempt for each dependent family member who resides with the debtor.

Tennessee

Follows federal wage garnishment guidelines but adds an exemption of $2.50 per week for each of the debtor's dependent children under the age of 16 who reside in the state.

Texas

Wage garnishment for consumer debt is not permitted.

Utah

Follows federal wage garnishment guidelines.

Vermont

80% of disposable earnings or 40 times the federal minimum wage, whichever is greater, is exempt from wage garnishment.

Virginia

75% of disposable earnings or 40 times the federal minimum wage, whichever is greater, is exempt from wage garnishment.

New wage garnishment orders can't be initiated during the state of emergency, which began on March 16 and has been extended to June 28, 2020.

Washington

80% of disposable earnings or 35 times the federal minimum wage, whichever is greater, is exempt from wage garnishment.

Wage garnishment was suspended starting on April 14, 2020, but that suspension ended on June 17, 2020.

West Virginia

80% of disposable earnings or 50 times the federal minimum wage, whichever is greater, is exempt from wage garnishment.

Wisconsin

80% of disposable earnings or 30 times the federal minimum wage, whichever is greater, is exempt from wage garnishment.

Wyoming

Follows federal wage garnishment guidelines.

How to protect yourself from wage garnishment

If your wages are currently being garnished, a creditor has filed a lawsuit against you, or you're worried that could happen due to an unpaid debt, there are a few ways you can protect yourself.

Check the laws and exemptions in your state: Some states allow you to exempt more income if you're the head of your household, if you support dependents, or if you prove that the normal exemption wouldn't leave you enough money to pay your bills. You typically need to apply for these types of larger exemptions though. If you fail to do that, the court won't know that your circumstances qualify you to keep more of your wages. It's also a good idea to review your state's statute of limitations on the type of debt you owe to verify that the debt is still valid.

Settle the debt with the creditor: Creditors are often willing to negotiate and either set up a payment plan or accept one lump-sum debt settlement payment. It's better to be proactive and work with the creditor before there's a wage garnishment order against you, but even if that has already happened, you could still have success with this method.

Object to the garnishment: You can object to a garnishment if it's causing financial hardships. To learn how, contact the courthouse that issued the judgment. Be prepared to provide your current income and monthly expenses.

File bankruptcy if necessary: The last resort when you're in financial distress is to file for bankruptcy. This is a big step, so it's important to understand how bankruptcies work first. A bankruptcy does cause an automatic stay order which will stop the wage garnishment against you until either your debts are discharged, you set up a payment plan (for a Chapter 13 bankruptcy), or your bankruptcy filing is dismissed.

Consumers are on their own in most states

In total, 10 states and Washington D.C. have either suspended wage garnishment or blocked new wage garnishments during the COVID-19 national emergency. Four others don't allow wage garnishment for consumer debts in the first place, but that still leaves 36 states that haven't taken action on this type of garnishment.

Methodology

The federal minimum wage, federal wage garnishment laws, and state wage garnishment laws listed are all accurate as of June 12, 2020.

Many or all of the products here are from our partners that pay us a commission. It’s how we make money. But our editorial integrity ensures our experts’ opinions aren’t influenced by compensation. Terms may apply to offers listed on this page.

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