What is a Wage Garnishment?
A wage garnishment is a way for a creditor (or a debt collector) to take a prior court judgment and collect on that judgment. To do so, they can use something called an "earnings garnishment." This garnishment is a method of filing documents within a court case that permits the judgment creditor to take/garnish a portion of your wages. The statute defines garnishment as "Earnings garnishment is an action to collect an unsatisfied civil judgment for money damages plus statutory interest and costs, from earnings payable by the garnishee to the debtor." Wis. Stat. 812.32.
This wage garnishment is a formal legal document (or series of documents) served on you and your employer. Under the law, the employer is required to honor the garnishment documents.
What if This Leaves Me with No Money?
Often a garnishment will force a person into bankruptcy, eviction, repossessions, or other dire financial harm. This is because a judgment creditor can take a large chunk (think 20%) of someone's wages in a garnishment. When served with a wage garnishment, it can cause great financial harm and difficulty in paying normal bills. The law does provide for some protections if your income is so low that you are protected from garnishment:
812.34 Exemption.(1) The exemptions provided in this section do not apply if the judgment debt meets one of the following conditions:(a) Was ordered by a court under s. 128.21 or by any court of the United States under 11 USC 1301 to 1330. 812.34(1)(b)(b) Is for the support of any person.(c) Is for unpaid taxes.(2)(a) Unless the court grants relief under s. 812.38 (2) or par. (b) or (c) applies, 80 percent of the debtor's disposable earnings are exempt from garnishment under this subchapter.(b) The debtor's earnings are totally exempt from garnishment under this subchapter if:1. The debtor's household income is below the poverty line.2. The debtor receives need-based public assistance, has received such assistance within 6 months prior to service of the earnings garnishment forms upon the garnishee or has been determined eligible to receive need-based assistance although actual receipt of benefits has not commenced.(c) If the garnishment of 20 percent of the debtor's disposable income under this subchapter would result in the debtor's household income being below the poverty line, the amount of the garnishment is limited to the debtor's household income in excess of the poverty line before the garnishment is in effect.(3) The judicial conference shall adopt and make available schedules and worksheets to assist debtors in computing their eligibility for exemption under sub. (2) (b) 1. The schedules shall divide the annual poverty line for families of various sizes by 12, rounding to the nearest dollar, and the worksheets shall assist debtors to compute their household incomes. The judicial conference shall develop separate schedules for debtors paid on a weekly, biweekly, semimonthly and monthly basis by dividing the annual poverty line by 52, 26, 24 and 12, respectively, and rounding to the nearest dollar. The judicial conference shall revise those schedules annually to reflect changes in the poverty line. The revised schedules shall take effect July 1 for earnings garnishments or extensions commencing thereafter.
The forms you will need to fill out for these "exemptions" will be part of the same package of documents you receive with initial garnishment documents.
There are other reasons you may be protected from garnishment. These could include:
- You filed for bankruptcy on the debt
- The debt was included in a Chapter 128
- You are already being garnished
- You receive public benefits (Social Security, Foodstamps, Badger Care)
- You pay child support
What Paperwork Do I Need to File?
If your wages are too low (see above) to be garnished or you have another defense to the garnishment, you will be required to file some documents with the Court, send them to the creditor, and provide to your employer. These documents are relatively short and "fill in the blank." If you feel like there is additional information or documents the court should consider with your objection to the judgment, you should file these at the same time. Make copies of everything for your records.
Do I have to attend court?
If you object to the garnishment, the court will schedule a "hearing" on the matter. This hearing is a meeting for both sides to present their arguments to the judge. Some of the same tips about how to act in small claims court, would apply here. Make sure you dress appropriately and bring copies of all the documents you want the court to consider. If you have witnesses and would like them to testify, you will need to make sure they are available.
What if I'm already being garnished?
The rule is "one garnishment at a time." If you're being garnished, make sure you file the objection to the garnishment. You'll need to show the court (and the judgment creditor) proof of the other garnishment.
Help – I'm still Confused and a Bit Overwhelmed
If you're concerned that you might be in over your head, don't hesitate to call for a free consultation. During your free consultation we'll go over the following:
- What creditor/debt collector has sued you and is trying to garnish
- What defenses you may have to the garnishment
- Other protections and method of adressing
Will this Cost Me Anything?
Our initial consultations are always free. During the free initial consultation we'll be able to make the determination of the type of case you have, along with potential routes for a defense. We offer online scheduling for appointments.
We provide representation in debt defense and collection cases in Wisconsin, including Racine, Kenosha, Green Bay, Appleton, the Fox Valley, Milwaukee, West Allis, Waukesha, Walworth County, Dane County, Madison, La Crosse, Eau Claire, Superior, Ashland, and anywhere in-between.