Pennsylvania is one of the crown jewels of the United States’ northeast states known for its beautiful scenery, consequential history and monuments, and wide variety of jobs and opportunities available from professional services to industrial work. For many, this is the ideal location to settle and create a viable career and family. For many Pennsylvanians, that’s exactly what happens but many others are not immune to economic ups and downs and fall victim to joblessness, underemployment, or simply incur bills they cannot pay. For many, debts begin to dominate their lives and they are unable to catch up despite their best intentions.
In the case of not paying bills, creditors will often first try to collect without needing to involve court and helping ensure that the reciprocal business-client relationship is maintained. However, if that is not a feasible alternative then creditors will often resort to other techniques until they need to involve the courts in obtaining the funds to satisfy the debt through wage garnishment. Obtained by a court order except in rare circumstances, wage garnishment is often the last resort of creditors due to its lengthy and costly nature. Below we will examine what wage garnishment rules and defenses exist for Pennsylvanians.
What is wage garnishment in Pennsylvania?
Wage garnishment is a legal process by which creditors seek the intervention of a Pennsylvania state court in ensuring the payment of debt which that creditor has been unable to collect by any other legal means. If the creditor presents enough proof to obtain a judgement in its favor, the creditor then approaches a debtors’ employer with this writ of garnishment to begin to be paid directly from the debtors’ paycheck. This legal transaction is known as attachment where the writ of garnishment directly attaches to the wages being paid. Funds are sent from a debtors’ paycheck to the employer in furtherance of satisfying a debt. Following the deduction of taxes and any garnished wages, the remainder of the money is sent to the employee/debtor.
Can all income be garnished?
In Pennsylvania, wages, bonuses, and commissions are the primary income streams which are garnished to satisfy a writ of garnishment and ensure that creditors are paid back.
What types of debt can be collected in Pennsylvania through wage garnishment?
While there are differing rules for how to collect some types of debt, any debt legally entered into in Pennsylvania is collectible. This can run the gamut from consumer debt – such as credit cards or store accounts – to medical or hospital debt to tax debt to child support payments. There is no non-collectible debt in Pennsylvania as long as the person was legally entitled to enter into the contract for the good or service.
How does a Pennsylvania creditor navigate the wage garnishment process?
Unless falling into a specific category of creditor such as the IRS, child support or student loan services, most creditors will need court intervention to succeed in a wage garnishment action. Others, such as commercial creditors, will need to convince a judge to issue a write of garnishment following a demonstration of proof of debt. Once the order is agreed to, the creditor will then contact your employer so that your employer can begin to remove the funds from your check to satisfy the debt incurred.
Can I assert any defenses in Pennsylvania to attempt to quash a wage garnishment action?
Once a wage garnishment action from a creditor occurs, there is usually little the debtor has in the way of a legal defense or defenses to that action. However, some showings of complete payment or progress on the debt may be enough. Below are a few defenses to a typical wage garnishment action:
- The debt has been satisfied
- The debtor has entered into a payment plan with the creditor and is making payments
- The creditor has asked for more money in wage garnishment than is permissible in federal or state law
In Pennsylvania, how much money can be garnished from my paycheck and are there any special protections for different types of debt?
Pennsylvania law limits wage garnishment for debts emanating from state income taxes and residential rent payments
Unlike some states, Pennsylvania imposes unique and arguably harsh limits on some types of debts which can be garnished from your paycheck to satisfy a judgment. These protections ensure that all of a debtor’s check does not go to debt service and helps ensure the creditor receives some type of payment on a regular basis. For example, in Pennsylvania, state income taxes can only comprise 10% of a person’s wages when collected in a wage garnishment context which is seemingly novel compared to other states. There is a similar 10% limit for wage garnishment as a result of missed residential rent payments. These are very restrictive compared to other states who would impose broader wage garnishment limits. This 10% is subtracted from what is known as disposable income which is wages after all federal and state income taxes. In Pennsylvania, state law takes this a step further and allows for union dues and health insurance premiums to be subtracted from wages before the calculation of disposable income.
Pennsylvania law also recognizes a priority to wage garnishment claims giving first priority to the first in time to file a wage garnishment action in the Pennsylvania courts. This means that there is a potential for the creditor with the smallest amount of money claimed to be paid first if they were indeed the first to file. It is important to note that for some creditors, such as tax authorities, student loan servicers, and child support, there is no need for a court order to garnish wages.
Are there any federal wage garnishment protections for Pennsylvania residents?
Like all Americans, Pennsylvania residents enjoy federal wage garnishment protections that allow them to keep a significant portion of their wages. Federal law currently allows for only 25% of a debtor’s disposable income to be garnished under wage garnishment actions. This 25% limit is absolute so no matter how many creditors have successfully obtained writs of garnishment against you, you can never forfeit more than 25% of your disposable income as a result of wage garnishment. Additionally, federal law protects you from being fired as a result of the first wage garnishment action instituted against you. However, every subsequent wage garnishment action does not engender that same protection and an employer may fire you for the second or more wage garnishment actions obtained against you.
Notably, wage garnishment actions for child support allow a far larger amount of money to be garnished from your disposable income. For example, if you are supporting a spouse or another child, your disposable income may be garnished up to 50% to fulfill your child support obligations. If you are not supporting a spouse or child, your disposable income may be garnished up to 60%. Finally, if you owe more than 12 weeks of child support, you may receive an extra 5% penalty on top of your wage garnishment to help fulfill your child support obligations.
What are my options if faced with a wage garnishment action in Pennsylvania?
Legal matters should be taken extremely seriously and any wage garnishment action must be answered quickly and completely to help preserve your rights. Once served, consult with an experienced wage garnishment attorney who can assert any relevant defenses on your behalf that are applicable under the law. By providing all relevant evidence to your lawyer, you can protect yourself from an extremely damaging legal proceeding which could have long-lasting economic impacts for you and your family.