In Florida, can a creditor garnish my wages?

By Alfred Villoch, III, with Savage, Combs & Villoch, PLLC
So you owe money to a creditor, like a credit card company, and the creditor sues you. Eventually, a court awards your creditor a money judgment, say for $10,000. Can the creditor now garnish your wages in an effort to satisfy that judgment?  Put another way, can the creditor get a court order directing your employer to pay over part of your paycheck whenever you get paid?
The short answer is “yes,” but there are important limitations and exceptions to wage garnishment.  See § 77.0305, Fla. Stat., entitled “Continuing Writ of Garnishment Against Salary or Wages.”  The general rule is that a creditor can continue to garnish your wages under a continuing writ of garnishment until the judgment, or in this example, the $10,000, is paid in full.
The first step is that most creditors need the court to award a money judgment against you. Once the creditor has that judgment, it can further apply to the court through a writ of garnishment for an order directing your employer to pay over your wages to start paying off the judgment.  Id.
Once the court enters a writ of garnishment, there are federal limitations to how much a creditor can take from each of your paychecks.  A creditor can garnish up to 25% of your disposable income (i.e., after taxes and social security withholds) or the amount by which your disposable income exceeds 30 times federal minimum wage, whichever is less. See 15 U.S.C. § 1673, entitled “Restriction on Garnishment.” In Florida, if your disposable income is less than 30 times federal minimum wage, your wages cannot be garnished at all.
Also, if you are “head of household,” your wages might be exempt from garnishment altogether.  See § 222.11, Fla. Stat., entitled “Exemption of Wages from Garnishment.” This exemption is not automatic and you must soon file an affidavit with the Court upon notice of proposed wage garnishment. If you qualify for head of household and your wages exceed $750 per week, your wages can be garnished only if you have agreed in writing that the creditor can garnish your wages. To qualify as head of household, you must provide more than one half of the support for a child or other dependent, which can include a spouse.
Last, wages are defined as “compensation paid or payable, in money of a sum certain, for personal services or labor whether denominated as wages, salary, commission, or bonus.”  Id. So a creditor cannot garnishment money that you receive that are not defined as “wages,” for example, profits or distributions from a company that you own or of which you have an interest.  Instead, the creditor would have to employ different collection methods in that instance.
In short, the circumstances that lead to wage garnishment, its limitations, and exemptions can be complicated and difficult.  It is important that you speak to a trusted and reliable attorney as soon as possible if you face these difficult circumstances.  In many instances, bankruptcy can immediately prevent or stop a potential or ongoing garnishment situation.  If you have any questions or concerns, please contact Alfred Villoch with Savage, Combs & Villoch, PLLC, for a free consultation today.  The telephone number is 813-200-0013.

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