Dear Dr. Don,
I owe money to a store-and-lock company but haven't had the money to pay them. They sent me a letter saying they are going to garnish my wages. Can they do that? I thought only the government could garnish your wages.
-- Amy Arrears
If the company goes to court and wins a judgment against you for the debt, they may be able to garnish your wages. Part of your weekly wage income is protected from garnishment under federal law. The protected amount is equal to the greater of 30 times the federal minimum hourly wage (about $155) or 75 percent of your disposable earnings. This protection does not apply to garnishments for child support, spousal support, bankruptcy or actions to recover state or federal taxes due.
The earnings left after all legally required deductions have been made are defined as disposable earnings. Deductions not required by law are not subtracted from gross earnings when the amount of disposable earnings for garnishment purposes is calculated.
Wage garnishment occurs when an employer withholds the earnings of an individual for the payment of a debt as the result of a court order or other equitable procedure. You can't be fired from your job for one garnishment, but federal law doesn't protect you if you have multiple garnishments. This Department of Labor site describes the provisions of the federal law in greater detail along with this table showing wage-garnishment limitations.
|Maximum garnishment of disposable earnings under normal circumstances* for the $5.15 minimum wage|
|$154.50 or less: none||$309.00 or less: none||$334.75 or less: none||$669.50 or less: none|
|More than $154.50 but less than $206.00: Amount above $154.50||More than $309.00 but less than $412.00: Amount above $309.00||More than $334.75 but less than $446.33: Amount above $334.75||More than $669.50 but less than $892.67: Amount above $669.50|
|$206.00 or more: maximum 25%||$412.00 or more: maximum 25%||$446.33 or more: maximum 25%||$892.67 or more: maximum 25%|
What the storage company has to do to garnish your wages can vary by state law. Typically, it would have to win a court judgment against you, and that judgment would become the basis for the garnishment.