Garnishment of Assets in Debt Cases
Can your wages be garnished? What about bank accounts? Here are some things you need to know about garnishment.
If you have assets, and this includes either a job or money in the bank, you must be concerned about the possibility of being garnished if a debt collector (or anybody else) has a judgment against you.
Bank accounts can be garnished and, when they are, it is almost always a surprise to the debtor. What typically happens is collectors obtain money judgments (usually by default) and then use the judgment to freeze the funds in your bank account. State law and banking rules govern how the bank must handle the garnishment process. Collectors always notify the bank first and then notify the debtor. This way your funds are frozen before you can take any action such as withdrawing all your funds.
Their notifying the bank first is perfectly legal. You typically receive the notice (including your rights) a day or two after your funds have been frozen. In most states, the garnishment can only freeze funds already in your account at the time of service on the financial institution. During the time the garnishment is in effect, the financial institution cannot honor checks or other orders for the payment of money drawn against your account. This means any outstanding checks will more than likely bounce or be returned for NSF. The exception to this rule is if your account has more on deposit than the amount of the garnishment. In this case, the bank can honor checks up to the amount that will reduce your funds below the amount of the garnishment. When the amount being garnished is paid, the freeze on your account must be terminated.
Wages can also be garnished, and, again, your first notice that you are being garnished is likely to be when you receive a check that is less than you thought it would be. Federal law limits the maximum amount that can be garnished by one or more garnishment orders to 25 percent of your disposable earnings for that week, or the amount by which disposable earnings for that week exceed thirty times the Federal minimum hourly wage, whichever is less. In simple terms, “disposable income” is whatever money you have left after paying all required taxes and national insurances!
Disposable income is after-tax income that is officially calculated as the difference between personal income and personal tax and nontax payments. In general terms, personal tax and nontax payments are about 15% of personal income, which makes disposable personal income about 85% of personal income. IMPORTANT: In order for wages to be garnished, disposable earnings per week must exceed thirty times the federal minimum hourly wage or $154.50. Put another way, if you make $154.50 or less per week your wages cannot be garnished – for now and as long as you don’t make any more than that. Also – Social Security and some other types of disability or retirement income are protected from collection.
But You Should Not Let them Get a Judgment if Possible
All of the above being said, you will almost always be much better off it you can avoid letting them get a judgment against you. Things could get better for you in any number of ways. Just because things seem bleak now doesn’t mean that the sun won’t eventually shine. And it isn’t all that hard to keep them from getting a judgment if you know what you’re doing.