Wage garnishment in Massachusetts is a court judgment that mandates that a portion of your income be diverted to a creditor to resolve a debt. A levy is a court order that may allow the creditor to seize property to pay or resolve a debt.
Usually, a garnishment order may naturally terminate after a specific period designated by Massachusetts law and does have limits. However, creditors usually can go back to get a subsequent garnishment order if the time has expired but the debt has not been paid in full.
Even if you have not paid the debt for years, if a creditor has gone to court and obtained a legal judgment against you, your wages can be garnished until the debt has been repaid. In most states, this might be seven months, seven years, or even possibly longer. IRS debt, child support, consumer debts, and student loans are some of the most common sources of wage garnishment. Your earnings can be garnished until the debt is paid off or it is otherwise resolved. You have legal rights, however, including specific caps on how much can be taken at one time, the types of garnishments that can be utilized, and more. You also can take steps to lessen the effect and help you bounce back from this disturbing situation.
The first thing you should do is to carefully read the judgment to verify that all the information is true and accurate. Make sure that it’s not something you already paid and that it’s your debt. If it is, consider how much money will be taken and exactly how it will impact your current financial situation.
Then, and only then, should you decide what to do next. This is a serious matter and may involve the IRS or other government agencies and many legal variables come into play. By consulting with a Hyannis or New Bedford levy garnishment attorney to determine what’s best for you to do, and what path to follow, you can assure your rights are protected.
What Are the Types of Wage Garnishment That I Can Expect?
Wage garnishment is much more common than you might believe. Current statistics show that 7.2% of the 13 million employees it assessed had wages garnished in a specific year, and that number is growing. If you are a worker aged 35 to 44, the number could be as high as 10.5%. The top reasons for garnishment are child support, consumer debts, student loans, and the IRS.
There generally are two types of wage garnishment:
- In wage garnishment, creditors can legally require your employer to hand over part of your earnings (usually on each pay period) to pay off your debts.
- In non-wage garnishment, more commonly referred to as a levy, your creditors may tap directly into your bank account or possibly even seize property.
The court will send legal notices to your bank or employer, and the garnishment will begin in five to 30 business days, depending on your creditor, the type of debt, and what Massachusetts law allows. The garnishment can continue until the debt, potentially including court fees and interest, is paid.
Approximately How Much of My Wages Can Be Taken?
There are specific guidelines, both state and federal, that limit how much of your disposable income a creditor can take. As it applies to wage garnishment, “disposable income” is defined as your income that is left after the necessary deductions such as taxes and Social Security.
This limit varies with the type of debt (child support, IRS, etc.) but can be significant. For example, credit card bills, medical debt, and personal loans can either be 25% or the amount by which your weekly income exceeds 30 times the current federal minimum wage, or whichever is less. Child support and alimony can be as high as 50% of your income, and federal student loans and IRS debt will usually be around 15% of your wages.
As you see, the amount can vary, but may negatively impact your livelihood as well as your standard of living. This can be a complex legal issue, and consulting with a Plymouth garnishment lawyer is possibly the only real way to fight a garnishment or levy effectively. They will go over all the details of the issue and guide you through this tedious yet impactful financial event.
What Can I Do About a Wage Garnishment or Levy?
You most definitely have legal rights in the entire wage garnishment process, but it’s on you to be aware of these rights and exercise them. Your wage garnishment lawyer, familiar with these changing laws will be vital to making sure your rights are protected.
Some of the things you should know and do are:
- You must have been legally notified of the levy or garnishment.
- You have the right to file a dispute if the notice has inaccurate information, or you believe you don’t owe the debt.
- Some of your income, such as Social Security, veteran’s benefits, and others, are exempt from garnishment. However, they could be subject to seizure once in your bank account.
- Your employer cannot fire you for having one wage garnishment, but this protection is usually lost if you incur more than one garnishment at a time.
If you believe this process has any errors whatsoever or it’s causing undue harm to your finances, you should arrange to have your attorney challenge the garnishment directly and possibly halt the process entirely. There are numerous legal means to fight these life-altering actions by a creditor, just make sure you receive the professional advice to use them correctly.
My Wages Have Been Garnished or Levied, What Should I Do First?
As you see, many things can be done to protect yourself from these life-altering, stressful situations. An experienced levy garnishment attorney can attack this process from many effective angles, even possibly working out a better deal with your creditor. The firm of Benner & Weinkauf has effectively helped New Bedford, Braintree, and Hyannis clients with IRS, student loans, personal debt, and child support garnishments and levies for decades. Consult with them first and save yourself possibly years of stress, and financial hardship that could have been avoided.