California Wage Garnishment Limits

If my paycheck is garnished, do they have to leave me enough to live on?

I have a wage garnishment that was just levied by the court. My next paycheck will be when the garnishment starts, as my employer received the order on July 20th, 2010. My total earnings weekly, monthly, currently fall below the Federal Law, maximum amounts to be garnished in the state of CA. Is it automatic that the employer can not take any monies from my pay or do I have to file something stating my income is to low at this time for garnishment? If so, what, when and how?

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Highlights

  • Know your rights if your wages are being garnished.
  • Learn how a judgment can lead to a lien or bank levy.
  • Make sure the amount garnished does not exceed legal limits.

A certain amount of income is exempt from attachment in a wage garnishment. The amount exempt varies by state. It makes a difference who is levying your paycheck. The amount that can be levied can also vary who is trying to collect from you. For instance, the IRS can take a larger percentage of someone’s income than an unsecured creditor, but even the IRS leaves a certain portion of a person’s income exempt from a levy.

A wage levy is not the only way a creditor can enforce a judgment. You want to make sure you know about bank levies and liens. Here is more detailed information about wage garnishments.

California Wage Garnishment

You mentioned you reside in California. California, like many states, follows federal law in terms of the maximum amount that can be garnished. Under federal law, the lesser of the following may be garnished:

  • The amount by which a debtor’s weekly income is greater than 30 times the minimum wage. The current minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, making the 30 hour weekly total $217.50. This leaves the debtor with something to live on, though it clearly can be less than is needed to meet minimum obligations.
  • 25% of disposable income. Disposable income is defined as the income that is left after all legally required deductions are taken from a person’s paycheck. This include Federal and State Taxes, FICA, State Unemployment and Disability Taxes , with “disposable income” defined as income left after legally required deductions from a person’s paycheck, such as FICA. Other obligations, such as voluntary contributions to retirement accounts, deductions for medical, dental or vision insurance, or contribution to a Medical Savings Account are not exempt and will be considered part of the disposable income.

This formula applies to most debts. As I mentioned above, some creditors are able to garnish at a higher rate. For instance, the IRS can garnish at a more severe level, as can a garnishment for delinquent child support.

Examine the detailed federal rules regarding garnishment in the Dept. of Labor's The Federal Wage Garnishment Law, Consumer Credit Protection Act's Title 3 (PDF), which includes a chart that lays out the legal limits of the garnishment. See also the Public Counsel document Wage Garnishment: A Guide to Understanding Court-Ordered Wage Garnishment and Your Options (PDF) to learn about California's garnishment rules.

In California, judgment-debtors who are about to have their wages garnished should read California form WG-003 (PDF) and then complete form WG-006 (PDF) to apply for an exemption. Do so immediately — a wage garnishment is much easier to prevent than unwind if you are exempt from garnishment.

I hope this information helps you Find. Learn & Save.

Best,

Bill

Bills.com

19 Comments

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  • RA
    Feb, 2014
    Robert
    Hello, I'm in California. I was told by my employer they received an earnings withholding order. I filed a claim of exemption and a financial statement with the levying officer. I was notified by my employer that the levying officer told them to stop the earnings withholding order. Two weeks later I received a copy of a "Memorandum of Costs After Judgement, Acknowledgement of Credit, and Declaration of Accrued Interests". It shows the post judgement amount of $55.00 for issuing the Writ of Execution and the Levying Officers fees. Will this mean I will have another Earnings Withholding Order placed on my wages for the original amount plus the $55.00? What I was asking is if the judgement creditor can refile for another Writ of Execution again? One other question I have is if my earnings withholding order has been stopped will I be able to have my earnings returned to me? The 25% really put me in a financial bind with day to day living expenses. Thank you very much.
    0 Votes

    • BA
      Feb, 2014
      Bill
      Consult with a California lawyer who has consumer law experience. If you cannot afford a lawyer, contact Law Help CA or another California pro bono program to receive no-cost legal services.
      0 Votes

  • CB
    Oct, 2013
    Carlos
    Last January my employer notified me that my wage was being garnished for $3,400. I figure that the garnishment might reach $4,000. But I had my wage being garnished for over $5,000 and I still having my wage garnished. I tried to call to get some information about my garnishment and how long this will last. I called the collection company and they have no information say they received less than half of the $5,000 taken out of my wages. How do I get information about the garnishment? The collection company cannot help me, and the state of California has no clue about the collection. They keep letting me know that my employer hasn't sent the funds to settle the collection. Do I need to call a lawyer to settle?
    0 Votes

    • BA
      Nov, 2013
      Bill
      The facts in your message are unclear to me, and accordingly, it would be unhelpful for me to write more than the following: Your employer's payroll department may have the facts you need to answer your question. Ask to see copies of the garnishment order it received. Then work backwards from that information. If you reach a dead end, talk to a lawyer about filing a California WG-006 Claim of Exemption.
      0 Votes

  • CW
    Aug, 2013
    Ceiceli
    I live in California and my dad is having his wages garnished by a management corporation. They didn't notify my dad of this until July 1st and then they sent the process to go through on July 5th. My question is, are they able to do that? Because of the rug being flipped from underneath us they caused us to be late on our rent, we were forced to move out before an eviction and now we are currently homeless living in a motel. This can not be legal. My mom is trying to get the garnishes exempted but the process takes a while and we are currently running out of funds to stay in this motel. Please help and tell me if there is anything that we can do to stop these garnishments ASAP.

    p.s. My dad's take-home pay was $1,200 bi-weekly and these garnishments are taking $600 of it. My mom gets SSI, and she receives only $1,000 on the 3rd of each MONTH. Anyone know of any kind of help?

    p.s.s. We tried going to Social Services but because the gross income for my dad looks so good we don't qualify. They don't understand that we don't see any of the $1,200 anymore because of the garnishments.
    0 Votes

    • BA
      Aug, 2013
      Bill
      Call your county bar association and ask for the names of the organizations that provide no-cost legal services to people with low or no income in your area. Make an appointment with one of the organizations, and ask your father to bring all of the documents and letters he has regarding the wage garnishment and your family's debts to his meeting. The lawyer he meets will advise him accordingly.
      0 Votes

  • MS
    Feb, 2012
    Mary Jane
    I'm going trough a foreclosure in Ohio, because the second mortgage wouldn't let me short sale unless we bring $40K to closing, which we do not have. I offered less and they didn't accept. I need to move to CA at the end of the year for personal reasons. By Ohio law, they can repossess your house and come after you for the remaining debt after the foreclosure. Therefore, a lot of people who foreclose also declare bankruptcy. I spoke to a bankruptcy attorney, and she said she is not sure if once I move to CA, the second mortgage would be able garnish my wages. She said it depends on CA laws. We are talking about $90K debt after all fees, so if they can come after me in CA I probably need to declare bankruptcy. Can you tell me how CA wage garnishment law would effect me when I move?
    0 Votes

    • BA
      Feb, 2012
      Bill
      Answering your question is difficult because the creditor(s) has (have) several options for handling the deficiency balance. Here are four I can think of:
      • Issue you a 1099-C, and abandon any collection efforts
      • Issue you a 1099-C, and sell your collection account to a collection agent for pennies on the dollar
      • Issue a 1099-C or not, and file a lawsuit against you in Ohio. It could then domesticate the Ohio judgment in California.
      • Issue a 1099-C or not, and file a lawsuit against you in California

      If the creditor pursues legal action against you as a California resident, or chooses to domesticate an Ohio judgment in California, California wage garnishment rules apply. We outline California's rules in the original answer above.

      0 Votes

  • BS
    Jan, 2012
    Bryan
    I have had 25% of my disposable wages garnished by the FTB for the past two years now. I am due in court and will likely lose a judgement in a few days (credit card collector brought suit against me). I'm concerned that the creditor might seek and win a wage garnishment order. Since I'm already having the 25% garnished to the FTB, do I have to worry right now that additional garnishments can be taken above that 25%? I don't have any money in the bank, but I'm afraid that the collector could come after my only possession of value, my car which is worth $7,000 to $8,000, and which I just received title to this week. I've considered putting the into an irrevocable trust, but I don't have confidence that that would be effective with so close to the court date. Do I need to worry that they could come after my car?
    0 Votes

    • BA
      Jan, 2012
      Bill
      In general wage garnishments are limited to 25% of your income. Your car could be subject to a lien and possibly sold. Before transferring title, I recommend that you speak with a lawyer. I advise you to read the Bills.com article about debt relief to explore possible strategies to deal with your debt.
      0 Votes