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What Can I Do About Wage Garnishment in California?

by Chad Johnson on 8/14/2022

Finding out money is going to be taken out of your paycheck to pay a past-due debt is extremely stressful, especially when you are already just scraping by.

We understand your situation and we can help. Discuss your situation with one of our attorneys for a free consultation, and let us take on the stress of getting you out of a wage garnishment situation. It is always better if you talk to us before money is being taken out of your paycheck. If the wage garnishment has already started, don’t worry. We can still stop it.

Most Wage Garnishments Begin With A Lawsuit

Wage garnishments are most often brought about by creditors you defaulted on who have obtained a judgment. Judgment creditors could include medical bills, credit cards, payday loans, and more. Most Creditors cannot touch your income until they obtain a judgment from a proper court. When you find out one of your creditors has filed a lawsuit against you, contact us right away. We can often stop the lawsuit before it becomes a judgment and before they start garnishing your wages.

While most creditors file a lawsuit and must receive a judgment before garnishing your wages, below are situations where a judgment is not required before wage garnishment begins:

  • unpaid income taxes
  • court ordered child support
  • child support arrears
  • defaulted student loans

How Much Can Be Taken From Your Paycheck?

According to California Civil Procedure Code Section 706.050, the most that can be garnished is the lesser of 25% of your disposable earnings or 50% of the amount by which your weekly disposable earnings exceed 40 times the state hourly minimum wage. 

There is another way to limit what is garnished, but it requires you present proof to the court. Code Section 706.051 states: "the portion of the judgment debtor's earnings which the judgment debtor proves is necessary for the support of the judgment debtor or the judgment debtor's family supported in whole or in part by the judgment debtor is exempt from levy under this chapter."

Calculating what can be garnished for unpaid taxes is a little more complicated. 26 USC 6334(d) explains the calculation. It could be that the garnishment limit is less than 25% of your income. 

Disposable earnings are those wages left after your employer has made deductions required by law. 

For example, let’s say you earn $1,200 per week, and your net wages (disposable earnings) are $1,000 after all required deductions. 

If the current CA hourly minimum wage was $15.50 then 40 x 15.5 is $620. Your disposable exceeds this number by $380 and 50% of that is $190.

Since your wages can be garnished up to the lesser of 25% of $1,000 ($250) or $190 (see above calculation) per week your wages may be garnished up to $190 per week.

How Do Child Support & Student Loans Affect Wage Garnishment?

As noted above, if you're behind on child support, student loans, or taxes, the government or creditor can garnish your wages without getting a court judgment. The amount that can be garnished from your wages is different too.

  • Child Support - If you fall behind on your child support, the court can order a wage garnishment. Unpaid Child Support is limited by federal law at up to 50% of your disposable earnings if you are currently supporting a spouse or child otherwise it can be as high as 60% of your earnings. (15 USC 1673).
  • Student Loans - If you are in default on a federal student loan, the U.S. Department of Education or any entity collecting for this agency can garnish your wages without first getting a court judgment – this is called an administrative garnishment. The most that can be garnished is 15% of your disposable income, but not more than 30 times the minimum wage.

What If You Have Multiple Wage Garnishments?

If you have more than one wage garnishment, the total amount that can be garnished is limited to 25%. For example, if the federal government is garnishing 15% of your income to repay defaulted student loans and your employer receives a second wage garnishment order, the employer can only take another 10% of your income to send to the second creditor.

Will Wage Garnishments Affect Your Employment?

According to federal law, your employer cannot discharge you if you have one wage garnishment. (15 USC 1674) However, federal law won’t protect you if you have more than one wage garnishment order.

Want To Stop Wage Garnishment?

Schedule your free consultation today, and let us help you deal with this debt and wage garnishment stress!