Creditors can garnish up to 25% of your paycheck

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Your creditors say they’ll garnish your wages to get the money you owe them. Can they do that?

Maybe.

Wage garnishment, the most common kind of garnishment, means deducting money from someone’s paycheck. If your wages are garnished, your employer will deduct money from each paycheck and give it to your creditor.

By federal law, garnishments can’t total more than 25% of a paycheck, and one garnishment might not take that big of a bite.

It’s possible, though, for multiple creditors to simultaneously garnish one person’s paycheck, pushing the amount up to 25%.

The Internal Revenue Service can garnish your wages directly, once it has sent you the proper information and notices and given you time to either pay up or make other arrangements, such as a payment plan that you control.

Most other creditors need to get a court order to garnish wages.

Employers can’t refuse to garnish wages if they’re presented with a proper notice to do so. They can’t fire a worker to avoid dealing with a garnishment, either.

Wage garnishments can pay any kind of debt.

Most commonly, though, garnishments are ordered to pay child support, defaulted student loans, taxes or unpaid court fines.

Some states -- North Carolina, South Carolina, Pennsylvania and Texas -- only allow garnishment for those types of debt. Several other states allow maximum wage garnishes that are lower than the federally mandated 25% ceiling.

Other states prohibit garnishment altogether in some circumstances.

In Florida, for instance, your wages can’t be garnished without a waiver if you provide more than half the support for a child or other dependent.

Primary creditors, including credit card companies, don’t often request court-ordered garnishments. A collection agency that buys debt from a primary creditor, however, may ask a court to order wages garnished.

Your best bet for avoiding a garnishment is to reach a payment agreement with your primary creditor, whether that’s a credit card company, a bank, the IRS or your child’s other parent.

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