What is a wage garnishment?
A wage garnishment occurs when a court or the government orders your employer to set aside some of your earnings to pay a debt.
The amount of your wages that can be garnished for a private debt varies according to your income. Private debts include credit cards, medical bills, bank loans, and private student loans. Private debts do not include child support, taxes, or government student loans.
If your disposable income is $450.00* per week or less:
All of your earned income is exempt from debt collection. Your wages CANNOT be garnished.
If your disposable income is more than $450.00* per week:
The creditor may garnish up to 10% of your gross income or 25% of your disposable income for the week, whichever is less. However, the creditor may not reduce your weekly disposable income to less than $450.00 per week.
*This amount is based on the $15/hour NYS minimum wage for “NYC – Large Employers (of 11 or more),” effective 12/31/18, as listed on the NYS Department of Labor’s website. This amount may vary depending on the specific NYS minimum wage applicable to your location and employer.
If you are already being garnished for child support or spousal support:
You can still be garnished to pay a private debt, but the total garnishments cannot exceed 25% of your disposable income.
What is “disposable income”?
Your “disposable income” is the amount of money you take home after deductions required by law, such as deductions for taxes, Social Security, and unemployment insurance.
What is “gross income”?
Your gross income is the amount you earn before any deductions are made.
Can a creditor garnish my Social Security or other benefits to pay a private debt?
No. Social Security and other benefits are completely exempt from debt collection and cannot be garnished to pay a private debt.
What is the process that a creditor uses to garnish my wages?
1. All wage garnishments for private debts begin with a debt collection lawsuit.
3. Armed with a judgment, the creditor will send the wage garnishment notice to a New York City Marshal. This notice is called an “income execution.”
4. Within 20 days, the marshal must serve you with a copy of the income execution.
5. Once you are served with the income execution, you have 20 days to call the marshal to arrange a voluntary payment plan.
6. If you do not contact the marshal within 20 days, the marshal will serve the income execution on your employer. Your employer will begin sending up to 10% of your gross earnings to the marshal.
7. From time to time, the marshal must send you an accounting stating how much you have paid, how those payments have been applied, and how much you have left to pay.
What should I do if I receive a wage garnishment notice?
If you receive a wage garnishment notice, you can be sure that a creditor has obtained a judgment against you. Therefore, you should consider whether you have grounds to cancel or vacate the judgment. If you can vacate the judgment, the creditor will no longer have the ability to garnish your wages, nor can the judgment appear on your credit report. In order to vacate the judgment you will have to file court papers and appear in court at least once, and possibly more than once. For most people, it is worth it to take the time and effort to vacate the judgment. Look here for instructions on how to vacate a judgment.
If you do not wish to go to court, then you can always contact the marshal or your judgment creditor in order to make voluntary payment arrangments.
What should I do if my wages are already being garnished?
Even if your wages are already being garnished to pay a private debt, you may have the right to vacate the judgment and stop the garnishment, especially if you were never properly notified of the lawsuit. If the judgment is vacated, not only will the garnishment stop, but the court can order the creditor to return to you all the money that it took to pay the debt.
What if I can’t vacate the judgment, but I can’t afford a wage garnishment?
Even if you choose not to try to vacate the judgment, you always have the right to go to court and ask the court to modify the amount of your garnishment. To do this, go to the court with a copy of the income execution and tell the clerk that you want to file an “order to show cause” to modify the wage garnishment. You should be prepared to explain to the court why the current garnishment amount is too high. Bring proof of your income, rent, bills, and monthly expenses in order to prove to the judge that you should be garnished at a lower rate. You should be prepared to show that the current rate of garnishment prevents you from paying for necessities, like rent, food, utilities, or necessary medical care.
Can a creditor garnish my wages and freeze my bank account at the same time?
Usually not. If you are already being garnished at the maximum amount, then the rest of your wages are exempt from debt collection, even if they are deposited in a bank account.
Can I be garnished for two debts at the same time?
Yes, but only up to the maximum amounts specified above. Usually, what happens with multiple garnishments is that the first creditor takes the maximum amount possible. The second creditor must wait until you finish paying the first creditor. Only then can the second creditor garnish your wages.
Can my employer fire me because of a wage garnishment?
No, under New York law your employer cannot fire you for a garnishment.
Helpful Links and Resources
LawHelp/NY: attorney referrals and information for pro se litigants
National Association of Consumer Advocates: national database of consumer lawyers
New York City Civil Court: information about representing yourself in court, including contact information and court forms
eCourts: information about cases filed in New York courts
Laws of New York: complete text of New York laws
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