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Wage garnishment - What is it and how can you stop it?

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If you're unable to pay your debts on time, your creditors or collection agency may file a lawsuit and win a judgment against you. Then, if wage garnishment is legal in your state, creditor or collection agency (CA) may have the judgment enforced through a wage garnishment. A wage garnishment is where the creditor or CA contacts your employer and requires him to withhold up to 25% of your wages to satisfy the judgment, depending on your state's law.

How can you stop wage garnishment?

Once a wage garnishment order has been granted, it is difficult to reverse it, but not impossible. If you can't manage to pay your basic living expenses while your wages are garnished, then you should collect a "Claim of Exemption" form from your local courthouse and file it with the court that issued the garnishment order. You should also request a court hearing and object to the garnishment to explain your situation in detail. On the day of the hearing, you'll need to show documents regarding your income and expenses so you can convince the judge that the garnishment will adversely affect your financial situation.

If you don't contest or fail to contest the garnishment, you can either pay off the judgment amount in full or negotiate a reduced payment with the court. If your state's garnishment law imposes a lower garnishment amount, then the court will follow the state law when imposing a garnishment order.

While your wages are garnished to satisfy the judgment, a lien is placed on your assets and property and it'll remain until you pay off the judgment amount. If you sell your property, the sale proceeds will be applied first toward the judgment and then toward any other debt.

In some states like Michigan, a garnishment order expires after 3 months. Therefore, a creditor or collection agency needs to obtain a new order for garnishment 3 months after the first order has been issued. This gives you some more time to work out a payment plan with your creditors/CA or challenge the amount being garnished.

What's the best way to avoid garnishment?

If you think your creditor or collection agency is taking steps to have your wages garnished, the best way to avoid it is offer a payment plan you can afford.

The best way to avoid a wage garnishment that you can't afford, after you've been served, is to answer the complaint within your state's time limit and appear in court on the appointed day. This way you will be able to present your case to the judge before the judgment is issued. You will also be able to present the judge with a statement of your finances that will help the judge determine how much the creditor or collection agency may garnish.

You can also try to negotiate with the creditor or collection agency before judgment is granted and get them to agree to an installment plan. Dealing with the creditor, collection agency, and the court before the judgment is granted is easier and more cost efficient than attempting to appeal one.

What if the IRS files wage garnishment?

If the IRS has a wage garnishment order issued against you, contact them within 30 days of receiving the Notice of Intent to Levy, and come to an arrangement with them to prevent your wages being garnished. You can try for any of the options stated below to stop wage garnishment being enforced on you:

  • Pay the debt in full: Here, you pay off the entire amount you owe including the interest and the penalties you've incurred. If you don't have enough funds, consider borrowing from your family or selling your assets to pay off your tax debt. If you don't find this option suitable, try settling your tax debt with the IRS.

  • Offer in Compromise to settle taxes: Under this agreement, the IRS agrees to accept a payment less than what you owe on your taxes.

  • Installment agreement: This is where you agree to pay off your tax debt in monthly installments over a 3 year period. If you owe $25,000 or less in taxes including your interest and penalties, you can apply for an installment agreement online. However, if your tax debt exceeds $25,000, you need to fill out a Collection Information Statement, Form 433F, and mail it to the address stated on your tax bill, along with the Request for Installment Agreement, Form 9465.

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