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If you ignore debt collectors it can come back to haunt you in the form of a wage garnishment. Garnishment is an aggressive form of debt collection that hit you where it hurt and affects your ability to pay the rent, bills and feed your family.
Wage garnishment happens when your employer withholds part of your compensation to pay your debts. Your wages can only be garnished as the result of a court order or a similar action. It’s important not to ignore a lawsuit summons. If you do, you lose the opportunity to fight a wage garnishment.
When facing debt that cannot pay on time, the best plan of action is to act early, speak to creditors, reach some sort of payment arrangement and stick to a repayment plan. Otherwise, if the debt goes unpaid and is ignored, the debtor collector will sooner or later sue you in court.
If you are served with legal documents about a lawsuit, it’s in your best interests to contact an attorney. Don’t ignore the lawsuit. If you do not respond, everything that is alleged in the lawsuit will be entered in the form of a default judgment. This means you automatically owe whatever the creditor sued you for and your employer can be order by the court to “garnish” or withhold a portion of your wages or bank accounts to pay that judgment.
In most states, the garnishment process can only be initiated by a court order and only if a judgment for monies owed has been entered Employers are typically required to tell workers about the withheld amount.
While it is against the law for an employer to fire an employee whose wages are garnished, that protection goes away after a second and third such judgment, according to the Consumer Credit Protection Act (CCPA). The CCPA also limits the amount of an employee’s earnings that may be garnished in any one week. CCPA also applies to all employers and individuals who receive earnings for personal services (including wages, salaries, commissions, bonuses and income from a pension or retirement program, but ordinarily not including tips).
The garnishment will not be terminated when you change jobs. Creditors can get a new court order to garnish your wages with your new employer. It is important to pay all your outstanding debt if you still have them. Try to pay them off as quickly as possible to avoid these creditors from “chasing” you from employer to employer. When your wages are being garnished, your employer will be fully aware of your current financial situation. In this case, carrying debt and being late on your payments can make you appear irresponsible or untrustworthy to the new employer.
And remember that once the judgment to garnish your wages has been rendered, you have very few options for stopping the process. By state law, creditors are required to provide you with plenty of lead time about what is about to happen. When a creditor threatens that they will take you to court about your debt, it’s in your best interest to talk to an experienced attorney immediately. An attorney can guide you through the process and make sure you understand which funds are exempt from garnishment, and what rights you do have.
It is always more prudent to deal with creditors from the start of any lawsuit or any settlement talk. This will ensure you know what your options are before it is too late and before any lawsuit is initiated. And again, once a lawsuit has been filed, act quickly to respond so as to avoid all the penalties associated with such proceeding and to ultimately avoid getting your wages garnished. The purpose of this column is to provide general information on the law, which is subject to change. It is not legal advice. Consult a lawyer if you have a specific legal problem.
Published: November 03, 2011 – Volume 10 – Issue 29