Can a credit card company garnish your wages in Florida to collect a bad debt? Actually, as it turns out, in some cases, no they can't, even if you have bad debts. But you have to act quickly, at just the right time. Otherwise, they can garnish your wages even if you could have objected. I learned about all this, when a friend of mine, who was stuck with bad debts after a divorce, and then moved to Florida, called me with some good news.
Garnishing your wages means that your employer deducts money each week and sends it to the credit card company to pay on your bad debt, before you ever see it. By federal law, they can't take more than 25%, but that's a lot, especially if you're trying to work out a way to settle past due credit card debts or pay them over time, like my friend.
However, if you're providing more than half the support of a dependent, like a child, elderly parent or spouse, you're considered a head of household, which means you're exempt and they can't garnish your wages. If you make less than $750 a week, they can't garnish your wages at all. If you make more than that, they can still garnish your wages if you gave them permission when you took out the loan.
Of course, when you took out a loan or applied for a credit card, you never thought you wouldn't be able to pay it back, so you may not have even noticed that. But now, it's important.
Credit card companies and loan companies also can't garnish things like Social Security benefits, unemployment benefits, disability, that kind of thing, but again, you have to act to defend yourself or they can do it anyway.
When my friend called, I thought this sounded worth writing about, so I asked her the details. She wound up with about $11,000 credit card debt that she was trying to pay off, but couldn't. I'm not a lawyer, so take all this with a grain of salt, but if you live in Florida and a credit card company or their debt collector is threatening to garnish your wages, sounds like it would be worth talking to a lawyer about.
Here's the way it works. The credit card can't just call up your employer and demand that your wages be garnished. They have to sue and get a judgment for the debt, first. You can fight that, but if you lose, the next thing that happens is you'll receive a "Writ of Garnishment" from the court. That's when you need to act.
The Writ of Garnishment is a legal notice that starts out like this:
NOTICE TO DEFENDANT OF RIGHT AGAINST
GARNISHMENT OF WAGES, MONEY,
AND OTHER PROPERTY
The Writ of Garnishment delivered to you with this Notice means that wages, money, and other property belonging to you have been garnished...
You can see it online in the Florida statutes. If you get an official notice that starts like that, pay attention, because you've got 20 days to act. My friend was lucky, because she called up a lawyer and he got working on it right away. She wanted to pay her credit card debts all back over time, if they'd let her, but on her terms, not theirs.
You can respond to the notice without a lawyer, but you need to file a "Claim of Exemption and Request for Hearing" with the clerk's office at the courthouse. A blank claim form will be attached to the writ. It needs to be notarized. You also need to mail or hand-deliver a copy of the claim form to the credit card company or whoever's trying to garnish your wages, and also to your employer. The addresses that you mail it to will be on the writ of garnishment.
Things move even faster then, but that's good. The credit card company has eight days after you mail the Claim of Exemption (or three days if you hand-deliver it) to respond. If they don't respond, you're all set. The writ of garnishment goes away and none of your pay will be withheld.
If they do respond, you'll get another notice, with a time and day that you need to show up for a hearing. You can have a lawyer there with you, if you want, but you aren't required to. What you'll have to do is prove you meet the head of household exemption, or one of the other exemptions. So be ready with pay stubs, tax forms, cancelled checks, receipts, that kind of thing. And make sure you didn't sign anything in the beginning authorizing them to garnish your wages, because if you make more than $750 a week, you'll lose, based on that alone. If you're in doubt, it would probably be worth discussing with a lawyer what kind of proof the judge will accept.
Then show up for the hearing, give your proof, and hope the judge agrees. If the judge does, the credit card company can't garnish your wages, it's all over, and you're safe. Except they still have a judgment against you, so you still have to pay the debt. They just can't force it to come out of your wages, so you have some breathing room.
Now here's the thing. If a credit card company threatens to garnish your wages and you live in Florida, you know all this. They'll have to spend the money to get a judgment against you first, then get a writ of garnishment, so all that's going to take at least a few weeks, probably more like a few months, so it's not going to happen right away. But more importantly, you know whether or not you could get an exemption.
If you're pretty sure you could, and they're talking about garnishment before they even have a judgment against you, you could try to write them first, with a copy of whatever proof you'd use to show you're a head of household and meet the exemption. Explain that you plan to file for an exemption, so since they won't be able to garnish your wages, you'd rather work out a settlement or a way to pay the debt over time. It might make them mad, but there's a chance it also might make them want to save the money on lawyers and work with you, if you sound reasonable to negotiate with. It's a risk, but it might be worth trying. If not, well, you can still stop them from garnishing your wages if you're eligible for the exemption.
All this worked out well for my friend, or at least as well as messy divorces and big debts can be, I guess. But small victories sometimes feel as good as big ones, when you need even a small one. She and her two kids moved to Florida six months ago, where she works at Disneyworld. How cool is that, to have a mom who works at Disneyworld? Okay, she's not Princess Tiana; she goes to work in a tunnel and cleans up, and I guess the pay is pretty bad. So she's trying to find a job that pays more and work her way out of debt, but in the meantime, she doesn't need to give up a 25% of each paycheck to the credit card company.
9:15 p.m. April 14
Can a credit card garnish your bank account or your house or your car?
9:33 p.m. April 14
You mean in Florida? If you're exempt from having your wages garnished, I think they can't go after wages that you put in your bank account, as long as you can show it's the same money, like with deposit slips for the amounts of your paychecks or direct deposit. According to this, you can also apply to keep a value of $1,000 in a car (that sounds like a real junker) or your house or $4,000. But I'm not a lawyer, so don't trust that.
6:41 a.m. April 15
How much does it cost to see a lawyer about that, though? That not fair to have to pay a lawyer ot get exempted if you should not have to be garnished anyway.
9:53 a.m. April 15
Ask a lawyer for a free consultation. You might be able to get all the information you need. Or try one of those debt consolidation lawyers that can take care of everything maybe for the same price.
1:19 p.m. April 15
Pay your bills deadbeat.
4:06 p.m. April 15
So you have to be a head of household? If you live alone, you're head of your own household, right?
5:49 p.m. April 15
Head of household means you're supporting somebody else, paying over 50% of their support. And yeah, the first thing I thought was, couldn't you adopt somebody quick? I don't know. I think it would need to be somebody you'd actually normally support, with proof you'd actually been supporting them. They wouldn't necessarily need to be living in your home, though. Like elderly parents or maybe children you paid child support for. See, this is why I'm not a lawyer, and why I tell folks to check with a lawyer because there are all these questions that keep it from being simple, in some cases.
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