Can My Wages Get Garnished If I Don’t Pay My Creditors?

I got the following regarding garnishments from a Facebook friend last week…

“John, I had some credit problems in 2007 and I thought time had healed the wound.  I’m wrong.  I found out from my employer, AT MY JOB SITE, that a man delivered garnishment papers this morning.  They’re going to take some of my paycheck to pay back my credit card debt.  Is this legal?  How much are they going to keep?  I’m not rich and I can’t afford to have my paycheck docked just to pay back an old debt.”The answer to the question is yes, it is perfectly legal.  In fact a garnishment order is a legal order.  Here’s what likely happened that lead to the garnishment.

1. You had an account with a credit card issuer.  You used the card, ran up some amount of debt and didn’t pay it back.

2. After a few months of trying to collect the debt the credit card issuer washed their hands of it and sold it to a debt buyer. At this point the debt buyer owns the rights to collect your defaulted credit card debt.

3. The debt buyer tried to collect it from you probably through a collection agency or collection attorney partner. They were unsuccessful.

4. Eventually the collection attorney sued you. You were served with lawsuit paperwork, at least you were supposed to have been served with the paperwork.

5. You either ignored the lawsuit paperwork or couldn’t afford to hire an attorney to address it. After 30 days of not responding the court entered a default judgment in favor of the collection attorney.  That’s what happens when you ignore a lawsuit complaint.

6. At this point you’ve become a judgment debtor and the collection attorney became the judgment creditor. He can now pursue your wages through a garnishment, sometimes called a writ of sequestration.

7. The garnishment order was served on your employer and they will be ordered to pay the judgment creditor a portion of your salary instead of giving it all to you. They’ve been dragged into this unwillingly and probably are not very happy about it. This is one of the reasons employers like to pull credit reports before hiring someone. They want to know if there’s a chance they’ll have to garnish your wages.

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8. You can fight the garnishment order, but you’ll have to hire an attorney to do so.  After the judgment creditor has been paid back you’ll start getting your full paycheck again.

What you’re going through is the worst case scenario when you don’t pay your creditors.

Credit Reporting Expert, John Ulzheimer, is the President of Consumer Education at SmartCredit.com, the credit blogger for Mint.com, and a Contributor for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.  He is an expert on credit reporting, credit scoring and identity theft. Formerly of FICO, Equifax and Credit.com, John is the only recognized credit expert who actually comes from the credit industry.  Follow him on Twitter here.