Information on Two Creditors Garnishing Wages at the Same Time

Can my paycheck be garnished by two different collection companies at the same time?

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Bill's Answer: Resident Expert

The amount that your wages can be garnished for the collection of a judgment on an unsecured debt primarily depends on your state’s laws relating to wage garnishment. In most states, a judgment debtor’s wages can be garnished up to a maximum of 25% of his or her net income. In fact, 25% is the maximum garnishment allowed under federal law, so no state allows garnishment of more than 25% of a debtor’s net income. However, some states further limit the amount that can be garnished from their residents. I will explain more about garnishment in just a moment.

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In states such as Texas, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Pennsylvania they do not generally allow wage garnishment for unsecured debts, while Florida does not allow garnishment if a debtor is considered the head of a household. Also, many state courts will reduce the amount of a garnishment if the debtor can demonstrate that the current garnishment amount is causing an undue hardship for the debtor and his family.

Before you assume that your wages will be garnished, I encourage you to review your state’s laws relating to garnishment for the payment of judgments for unsecured debts. To read more about your state’s laws relating to wage garnishment and what other assets are protected by state law, see the State Consumer Protection Laws and Exemptions resource.

General Garnishment Rules

Garnishment limits outlined by federal and state laws define the maximum total amount that can be garnished from a debtor’s paycheck at any one time. For example, under federal law, the maximum that a consumer can be garnished for the collection of an unsecured debt judgment is 25% of his after-tax earnings. Generally speaking, if a consumer has more than one judgment creditor attempting to garnish his wages, the creditor who files for garnishment first is paid first; any garnishments received while a garnishment is already in place will sit unpaid until the first garnishment is paid.

Certain types of garnishments, such as those for delinquent taxes or child support, take priority over garnishments for regular judgments, so even if you are already being garnished by a creditor, if the IRS sends a garnishment notice to your employer, the first garnishment would stop the IRS would be paid before the garnishment for the judgment resumed. Also, you should know that the amount that can be garnished to pay these "priority debts" is generally higher than the amount that can be garnished for regular judgments. For example, a garnishment for delinquent child support may be able to take as much as 50% of your earnings, or possibly even more, depending on your state’s laws and the court order requiring the child support payments.

So, in a simple answer to your question, creditors cannot each garnish 25% of your wages; the creditors will either be forced to split the garnishment amount, or they will be required to wait in line to be paid in the order the garnishments were received by your employer. However, you must consider that having multiple garnishments sent to your employer may be grounds for termination of your employment. Under federal law, you cannot be fired for receiving one garnishment, but subsequent garnishments could be cause for your employer to terminate your employment, depending on your state’s laws and your employer’s policies relating to garnishments. If at all possible, I strongly encourage you to resolve these debts before a wage garnishment begins to prevent any potential problems with your employer.

Resolving a Garnishment

If you are struggling to repay unsecured debts, I encourage you to visit the Debt Help page to read about various options available to help consumers resolve their outstanding debts. Filing for bankruptcy protection may be one option available to you to stop these wage garnishments; I invite you to visit the Bankruptcy page to learn more about bankruptcy. I also encourage you to consult with a qualified attorney in your area to determine if bankruptcy is a viable solution to your financial problems.

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



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Comments (227)

Carolyn C.
Taylorsville, UT  |  February 17, 2012
I have been told that IRS levy takes priority over everything but child support. I just received a call from CA Tax board and they said that I should not have stopped their order when I received the IRS levy. Is this true?
February 21, 2012
There are a couple of things in your question that are not clear to me. I can't tell if you are an employer trying to properly comply with competing garnishment orders for an employee. It is also not clear to me if you are saying there was a payment plan in place with the CAFTB or a levy. I also don’t have clear information on the filing dates of the state or federal liens. Given my lack of a clear understanding, I am going to make a few general comments that I hope you find helpful.

Assuming that you are an employer and stopped a CA FTB lien in order to comply with an IRS tax lien,One issue present is the “priority” of a tax lien between the state and the IRS. CA FTB will argue that they had a lien that was in place prior to the IRS tax lien and therefore the state tax debt should have been paid first and then when complete the IRS tax next. Assuming that the state lien preceded the IRS lien, then the FTB is correct.
Kimberly D.
Hagerstown, MD  |  February 13, 2012
Just had a boyfriend is unfortunately in arrears on his child support. His amount is the exact amount of his federal refund this year. According to the "offset" they are appling the total balance of the child support amount from his federal refund. Question is will he get refunded because his state refund was also taken in "offset"? We have other children we are taking care of. With the offset amount he still should have recieved about $1000 in what was left of the tax refund.
February 13, 2012
Perhaps the safest thing to do is to file the federal return ASAP, so the offest is applied. Then, when filing the state return close to the filing deadline, attach proof that the arrrears are paid off. Speaking to the state tax authorities before you file the return and after the debt is paid may be prudent, too.
Julia T.
Bardstown, KY  |  February 07, 2012
if you are getting garnished for child support and you have past hospital bills they get a garnishment on can they take both or split it or how does this work.
February 08, 2012
The hospital bill garnishment gets in line behind the child support garnishment. The hospital garnishment can only happen at the same time if the child support garnishment does not exceed the state cap for garnishments from creditors such as the hospital or for credit card debt.
Greg D.
San Bernardino, CA  |  January 30, 2012
Can the same creditor garnish wages from both my employer and also from my bank account at the same time? To make matters worse, I now live in a different state (moved from CO. to CA). Are there federal laws, perhaps interstate commerce laws, that prevent this? thank you, -gd
January 30, 2012
California law does not prohibit a judgment-creditor from using multiple remedies (wage garnishment, levy, or lien) to satisfy a judgment. However, I do not know if Colorado law prohibits such a practice, but I would be surprised if it did.

The US Constitution's full faith and credit provision gives judgment-creditors with State A judgments the right to domesticate their judgments in State B. I am not aware of any interstate commerce laws that modify this basic right.
Greg D.
San Bernardino, CA  |  January 31, 2012
Thank you for such a quick response. Multiple remedies, who knows what they'll think up next? I also read something about applying for exemptions. Would any apply here in and for what state?
Greg D.
San Bernardino, CA  |  February 01, 2012
To reaffirm, would there be exemptions for garnishments in my situation. do you have links for state exemptions? thanks again.
February 01, 2012
See the resource Collection Laws & Exemptions for a list of exemptions state-by-state.

Every state has exemptions for wage garnishment, but if they apply based on your disposable income is the question. You mentioned you are a California resident. See also California Collection Laws to learn more.
Jazzmine C.
January 29, 2012
I live in California, and I am being waged garnished by the Califonia State Unemployment Agency. However, if I am being waged garnished, can the California State Unemployment Agency garnish my tax refund?
January 29, 2012
I believe that your California tax refund and IRS tax refund are in jeopardy, when you owe a California state agency.
Rob C.
Agoura Hills, CA  |  January 23, 2012
Wage garnishment has started (I am in CA), I filled out the claim of exemption paperwork, received an opposition letter from the judgement creditor and now have a claim of exemption hearing with the judge coming up. The creditor's opposition is that my claim is not good because they say I used the credit card for purchases for the "the necesity of life". I can prove that most, if not all of the debt was used for several business expenses (franchise fee, and to pay regular business expenses, etc). Will this reason hold up and prove the creditor is wrong in their opposition? Also, if the judge reduces the 25% own to something manageable, like maybe 3% (for example) does this stop the creditor from taking my car too? In other words, if the garnishment is going on, they consider me paying it back and my car is not at risk?
Jillian K.
Helena, MT  |  January 19, 2012
My husband and I live in Montana. His wages have been being garnished for 25% for the better part of 2011. We just received a notice from another company that they are going to take our tax refund. Can they do this?
January 19, 2012
Your tax refund cannot be garnished by a private company, although they can seek a court judgment against, which can lead to a levy on your bank account. I recommend that you read article about debt relief in order to seek an overall solution to your debt problems.
Will R.
Philadelphia, PA  |  January 10, 2012
I LIVE IN PA AND I HAVE A private student loan out of indiana i just learned that it is illegal for the t garnish my wages which tey currently are doinga 25% what steps do i take stop this? will they have to reimburse me the money or what would happen
January 10, 2012
Consult with a Pennsylvania lawyer about your situation. If the garnishment is illegal, a Pennsylvania lawyer will draft a motion to revoke the garnishment.
Shana R.
Lawrenceville, GA  |  January 04, 2012
I am currently being garnished for 2 student loans that were in default, taking 25% off my paycheck. If I am being garnished through my paycheck, can they also garnish my tax refund from income taxes?
January 04, 2012
If your loans are federal student loans, your tax refund is most definitely at risk. If the loans are private student loans, then your tax refund is not going to be taken.

If you were sued by a private student loan lender or a collection agency and a judgment has been entered against you, your bank account is at risk, depending on your state collection laws.
Christine T.
Missoula, MT  |  December 30, 2011
Hello, my husband gets garnished for Child Support already and now we have a judgement against us for a medical bill from a year ago. They are both being garnished right now. You mentioned that a creditor cannot garnish more than 25%. I realize that Child Support can be garnished for more, but can they garnish on top of it? Its causing us great hardship.
January 01, 2012
Check to see what are your state's maximum wage garnishment for child support. As mentioned in the article, it is often more than 25%.

As concerns unsecured debt, the wages cannot be garnished in excess of the 25%, or the maximum allowed by the state law, the lower of the two. Although, the wages may be protected from additional garnishment, your husband may still face other collection actions, such as bank levies, and liens on personal property. In addition, multiple garnishments could endanger his employment. I recommend that you look into a debt relief solution must appropriate to your situation.
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