Creditors can legally garnish your wages under certain conditions and through court order or judgement. Although there are laws in every state concerning this issue, Federal Law takes precedence. Judgement creditors can garnish your income but are limited to 25% of your earnings after mandatory deductions or the amount of your weekly wage that exceeds 30-times the then-current minimum wage where you live, whichever is lower.

If you are already lost, you are not alone. Many creditors mess this up, which means your garnishment might not be completely legal. If you are the least bit unsure, you need to contact a lawyer. You may be able to get an exemption by the court, but the longer you wait the tougher it will be to rectify the situation or get some of the money back that was taken incorrectly.

How Long Do Wage Garnishments Last?

Wage garnishments will continue until the debt owed is paid, or temporarily suspended if you file for bankruptcy. Your employer is required to set aside this money if there is a court order, but cannot penalize you in any way for the extra trouble in dealing with it. If they do there can be penalties, especially in the cases of child support, or spousal support garnishments.

These types of family law garnishments take precedence. In California, such garnishments can be large and you must pay. Even if you file an “undue hardship” with the court, you’ll still have to pay. If you have a double garnishment – money to creditors and money for child and/or spousal support, the later comes first, even if there isn’t enough left to pay the creditors anything.

Creditors Must Tell You in Advance of Wage Garnishments

If you have a judgement against you and you are in default and have not paid what you owe, you will be notified by your creditors 30-days in advance of the wage garnishments. This is often a debated point, as sometimes the debtor has moved or tried to hide and could not be contacted.

Your employer must give you a copy of the garnishment paperwork from the creditor. If you didn’t get a copy, then go to your payroll department and ask for it. Take notes of when and what was said.

Getting Garnishment Money Back

If you file for bankruptcy, either Chapter 13 or Chapter 7 Bankruptcy, you can often get your some of the money back and halt further wage garnishments during the proceedings. Of course, you will need to act fast and have a legal eagle on your side to make this happen. You may not be able to discharge the debt owed depending on what it is, but it might give you a temporary reprieve so you can get your financial situation back in order without becoming homeless or losing everything.

If you are in this case, you’ve probably put off contacting an attorney too long, and you need to get on the phone right now and schedule a time to talk about your total situation and all the options you have. The longer you wait the fewer options you’ll be legally entitled to.