Washington Collection Laws

Seattle downtown | Washington state debt collection laws
  • As a practical matter, mortgage deficiency balances may not be collected in Washington.
  • The statute of limitations for most consumer debts is 6 years.
  • Reinstatement of debt must be in writing.
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Learn Washington's Rules For Garnishment, Liens, and Foreclosure

If you owe debt and reside in Washington, it’s important to understand your rights and liabilities. It is even more important if a creditor threatens to file a lawsuit against you.

A lender, collection agent or law firm that owns a collection account is a creditor. Washington law gives creditors several means of collecting delinquent debt from you.

Before a creditor may use these legal tools in Washington, the creditor must go to court to receive a judgment against you. See the Bills.com article to learn more about this process, and how to fight a lawsuit.

A court will hold a hearing after a creditor files a lawsuit. A hearing may result in a judgment awarded to the creditor. A judgment is a court’s declaration the creditor has the legal right to demand:

The laws calls these remedies. A creditor granted a judgment is called a judgment-creditor. Which tool a judgment-creditor may use depends on the circumstances and Washington law. We discuss each of these remedies below. In Washington, the following laws are found under (RCW) unless specified.

Washington Wage Garnishment Rules

The most common method used by judgment-creditors to enforce judgments is wage garnishment. A judgment-creditor contacts your employer and requires the employer to deduct a certain portion of your wages each pay period and send the money to the creditor.

How Big a Bite Can a Garnishment Take?

In most states, creditors may garnish between 10% and 25% of your wages, with the percentage allowed determined by state law. Garnishment of Social Security benefits or pensions for consumer debt is not allowed under federal law, but may be allowed for child support. See the Bills.com Wage Garnishment article to learn more. Continue reading to understand Washington's restrictions.

Washington exempts 75% of your wages for most garnishments, and 50% for child support (RCW 6.27.150).

For municipal workers, see the Office of Financial Management State Administrative & Accounting Manual, , for a description of the wage garnishment and levy process. The descriptions apply, in general, to non-municipal Washington residents too. See for specifics about Washington law.

Struggling with Debt?
Use the Bills.com Debt Navigator to learn your options for resolving debt, and the costs and time to debt freedom  breaks down for each option. It’s free!

Washington Bank Account Levy

A levy means the creditor has the right to take whatever money is in a debtor’s account and apply the funds to the balance of the judgment. Again, the procedure for levying bank accounts, as well as what amount, if any, a debtor can claim as exempt from the levy, is governed by Washington law. Many states exempt certain amounts and certain types of funds from bank levies, so a debtor should review his or her state’s laws to find if a bank account can be levied.

Under Washington law, consumers must receive a notice of a pending garnishment. The consumer can claim an exemption of up to $500 in bank accounts for judgment garnishments. See RCW 6.15.010 for a list of other exemptions.

Washington Lien

A lien is an encumbrance — a claim — on a property. For example, if the debtor owns a home, a creditor with a judgment has the right to place a lien on the home, meaning that if the debtor sells or refinances the home, the debtor will be required to pay the judgment out of the proceeds of the sale or refinance. If the amount of the judgment is more than the amount of equity in your home, then the lien may prevent the debtor from selling or refinancing until the debtor can pay off the judgment.

In Washington, a judgment lien can be attached to real estate. The term of a lien is 10 years RCW 4.56.190. See RCW 6.15.010 for a list of exemptions. See RCW 61.12 for the rules regarding liens on person property.

If you reside in another state, see the Bills.com Liens & How to Resolve Them article to learn more.

Washington Statute of Limitations

Each state has its own statute of limitations on civil matters. Here are some of Washington’s statutes of limitations for consumer-related issues:

Account/Type Years Statute
Washington statutes of limitations. Source: Bills.com
  6* RCW 4.18.040
Spoken contract 3 RCW 4.16.080
Written contract 6 RCW 4.16.040
Judgment Lien 10 RCW4.56.190
Judgment 10 RCW 4.16.020
Promissory Note 6 RCW 4.16.040
* Washington appeals courts apply RCW 4.18.040, the rule for written contracts, when deciding cases involving credit card debt.

In Washington, the statute of limitations clock starts at the date of last payment, which is not common among the states (RCW 4.16.040). Acknowledgment of a debt or a reinstatement promise, which resets the statute of limitations clock, must be in writing (RCW 4.16.280).

Collection agents violate the FDCPA if they file a debt collection lawsuit against a consumer after the statute of limitation expired (Kimber v. Federal Financial Corp. 668 F.Supp. 1480 (1987) and Basile v. Blatt, Hasenmiller, Liebsker & Moore LLC, 632 F. Supp. 2d 842, 845 (2009)). Unscrupulous collection agents sue in hopes the consumer will not know this rule.

Washington Foreclosure

Washington mortgage and foreclosure laws can be found in RCW 61.12 and RCW 61.24. A lender may foreclose judicially or non-judicially in Washington. The common method is non-judicial, and takes a minimum of 190 days after the first default. A notice of foreclosure must be given to the homeowner 30 days before the sale occurs. Judicial foreclosure is also available in Washington, but is used primarily for agricultural land.

As a practical matter, lenders may not pursue homeowners for deficiency balances following non-judicial foreclosure in Washington.

Community Property & Washington Law

Washington is one of the 10 community property states. If you live in Washington, you may have liability for your spouse’s debt. Washington’s community property law is tricky, so do not assume you must pay your spouse’s debt automatically. Read the Bills.com article Washington Community Property Law to learn if you have lability for your spouse’s debt.

Washington Collection Agencies Law

Collection agents, whether they have offices in Washington, must be licensed in Washington. Washington’s debt collection agency law mirrors the FDCPA in most respects, with several exceptions. Under Washington law, which applies to collection agents and not original creditors (for the most part) requires:

  1. A debt collector may communicate with you or your lawyer, and not third parties about your debt
  2. The debt collector to include the following facts the first time it communicates with you in writing:
    • The debt collector’s business address and licensee name
    • The name of the original creditor (if the debt collector knows who it is) as well as your original account number (which can be redacted)
    • When you last made a payment to the original creditor, and
    • A statement including the original amount of the debt and a schedule of additional charges (such as late fees, interest, and attorney fees) that were added.
  3. A debt collector may not call or send text messages more than twice a day if it knows it is contacting you on a cell phone.
  4. A debt collector may not intentionally block its own telephone number when it calls.

Violation of Washington collection agency law is not a criminal matter. If you have been victimized by a collection agent, file a complaint with the Washington Attorney General and the FTC. Consult with a lawyer to discuss filing a civil lawsuit against the collection agent. Some lawyers take these cases on a contingency basis, which means no out-of-pocket costs to you. These laws are found in RCW 19.16.

Recommendation

Consult with a Washington lawyer who is experienced in civil litigation to get precise answers to your questions about liens, levies, garnishment, and foreclosure.

If you cannot afford a lawyer, contact the Washington Advocate Resource Center or another Washington pro bono program to find no- or low-cost legal services.

26 Comments
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  • 35x35
    Ashley,
    Feb, 2020

    Is a creditor allowed to demand that we make our payments via automatic withdrawal? I am not comfortable giving them my account information, and the last time we did this (using a different bank account that is now closed) they kept saying that my card would not work with their system and they charged me for it. I offered to send a check or money order via certified mail.

    • 35x35
      Daniel,
      Feb, 2020

      Ashley, you need to get a lawyer in Washington to answer that definitively. Th

      Here are a couple of ideas:

      1. Ask the creditor to state that there is no other option available, preferably in writing, and ask for all the rules covering the payments including the notice you are legally allowed to give if you wish to revoke payment authorization.
      2. Consider opening a separate account just to pay this bill. 
  • 35x35
    Melissa,
    Jan, 2020

    I live in WA state. My family savings account was garnished for almost $1,300 for a SEARS MasterCard credit card not in our name. My husbands deceased wife died in 2008. We moved here from Virginia in 2018. Virginia is not a common law state. The levy is from 2012 in Virginia. We’ve never been served or given any information...just poof...your account is garnished. What can I do?

    • 35x35
      Daniel,
      Feb, 2020

      Melissa, I am not a lawyer so you must not consider my answer to be legal advice.

      I am sorry that you received this kind of surprise. It appears that the judgment that took place in 2012 included your husband as a responsible party, though his name was not on the Sears account in his deceased ex-wife's name. It also appears that the judgment-creditor domesticated the judgment in WA state. 

      Speaking with a lawyer and presenting all the facts is your best option for determining if this can be undone with funds refunded if proof is supplied. If the amount taken did not pay the debt in full, do n ot keep money in the bank account until you resolve the problem, as the account can be hit more than once.

  • 35x35
    Matt Hickey,
    Jan, 2020

    Hi. I deposit my firefighter pension into a bank that has a credit card that is delinquent. The bank has withdrawn $904.00 from my checking to the credit card. I am disabled along with my wife and we also get SSA. Can they do this? I see that they have to file a lawsuit first.

    • 35x35
      Daniel,
      Jan, 2020

      The contract you have with the bank may give them the "right of offset." That means there may be language in the agreement  that says if you go delinquent on the credit card, the bank can access other accounts in your name.

      Open a new account in another bank, ASAP, and have your SSA and disability checks go to the new account.

  • 35x35
    ,
    Dec, 2019

    I live in Asia. I have 2 CC's maxed out at $30K. My last state of residence was Washington. I have no ability to pay the debt. I have a pension of $500 a month beginning in 1 year and SS of $1000 a month in 8 years. How can I protect these as I am sure a judgment will be issued? TY I have zero intention of moving back to the USA and don't care about a credit score and will have zero assets in the USA. My pension requires DD in a USA bank.

    • 35x35
      Daniel,
      Dec, 2019

      Your Social Security payment is protected from garnishment and an amount equal to two months of the monthly award is protected in your bank account.  If your bank account never holds more than 2 times the monthly award, then you should not suffer any loss.

      Things are less clearly defined with the pension. Your private pension probably can't be garnished at the source, but some private pensions can be. Check with the pension plan administrator to get an authoritative answer. Yourprivate pension money  in your account doesn't have the same protections as your SSI. it could be snared by a judgment-creditor. Washington exempts $500 in a bank account from attachment by creditors. Non-SSI funds above $500 could be taken. It may be prudent to establish the habit of moving the pension money out of your account right after it comes in.

  • 35x35
    Amy,
    Dec, 2019

    I have recently been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. I no longer have a job and only have social security in my account. (Less than 500.00 a month). My husband has an account that I am no longer on as I never used it. I have 4 credit cards. The most I have on 1 card is $1500.00. A total amount of around $5.000.00 for all. Can my social security be garnished and can my husbands account be garnishes? He only has a retirement pension of less than 1800.00 a month. We own no assets, homes or anything else. Can they garnish either accounts?

    • 35x35
      Daniel,
      Dec, 2019

      I am not a lawyer, so can share what I know with you as long as you don't consider it legal advice.

      Before I respond to your question, I want to say that I am sorry to read of your diagnosis. 

      Credit card companies can't garnish an income source or levy a bank account unless they obtain a judgment from a court against you. Have you been sued? 

      Even with a judgment, your creditors can't garnish your SSI. Your bank account in which the SSI is directly deposited is safe from a bank levy up to the amout that equals twice your monthly award.

      If your husband is not listed on any of the accounts, and is not named in any lawsuit, then he should be fine, as long as he doesn't share bank accounts with you.

    • 35x35
      THOMAS GOODWIN,
      Dec, 2019

      I am a disabled veteran with service connected cancer. My income consists of my VA disability and a social security benefit. Can the collection agency take my disability income or social security funds for a debt owed for unsuccessful radiation treatments? The President says the disabled veterans can get treatment outside the VA and the government will pay for it but that is not true. My wife is a cancer patient/survivor now. Can they take our money? I am making an effort to pay very month.

      • 35x35
        Daniel,
        Dec, 2019

        Thomas, what are the debts that a debt collector is trying to collect from you. Has anyone sued you? Most creditors are limited from coming after the kinds of income you listed, but the money in a bank account may be most vulnerable. Please provide some information about the debts and I will give more information.

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