If a creditor has problems in collecting a debt from you, he has a few options at his disposal. One of them is to sue you and attempt to garnishee your paycheck. What this basically means is that, since he is unable to get the money directly from you, he is asking the courts to force your employer to take money from your paycheck and send it to him. To protect you and prevent abuses by the creditor, however, both the federal and state governments have enacted a set of rules as to how this should work.
The first thing that must happen is that the court must actually rule against you. If the creditor sues and the courts reject his claim, the creditor is out of luck and will not be able to legally collect any monies from you. If, however, the court enters a judgement against you and the creditor prevails, the court can then direct your employer to set aside a certain amount of your paycheck each week and send it to the creditor until the debt is resolved. In legal terms, this is known as wage garnishment or a wage attachment.
In order to prevent you from becoming destitute, there are Federal and state limits as to how much money can be taken from your paycheck. The federal limit is the lessor of 25% of your weekly paycheck or a calculated formula comparing the dollar amount of your weekly paycheck minus 30 times the minimum hourly income. In addition to federal wage attachment laws, all states have their individual laws. These laws, however, must provide at least the protection to the debtor that the federal laws provide.
In fact, some states have enacted significantly tougher wage garnishment rules on creditors than the federal laws do. These laws may either add additional barriers that the creditor has to overcome if they want the courts to rule in their favor. Or, the laws may go much further in limiting the amount of money that can be deducted from the debtors paycheck. In practical terms, what this means is that a creditor bringing a suit against a creditor in Minnesota can expect different results than a creditor filing a lawsuit in Arizona.
A number of employees are needlessly afraid of wage garnishments. Yes, it is embarrassing. But, primarily they are afraid of being fired by their employer when their employer discovers that a creditor has sued them for money. But, the federal law explicitly prevents an employer from firing you due to a wage garnishment. If an employer does fire you, however, you will have a legitimate criminal lawsuit to bring against your employer.
Now, to be sure, the fact that their wages are being garnished can be embarrassing for the debtor. But, in a society where debt is such a large part of nearly all financial transactions, it is a necessary tool that allows creditors to be repaid what they are legitimately owed.