Can My Wages Be Garnished in Tennessee for Being Behind on a Debt?

Consult the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development for garnishment rules in your state.
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Tennessee is one of the many states that allow all types of creditors, including hospitals and credit card companies, to garnish wages for delinquent debts. The decision to sue you and garnish your wages is up to the creditor. For instance, after six months, the credit card company can write off a delinquent debt and hire a collection agency to collect your balance, or it can sell the debt to a debt buyer. The collection agency or the debt buyer can then sue you and garnish your wages.

Wage Garnishment Procedures

To garnish wages in Tennessee, the creditor must first file a complaint against you in court and then notify you of the lawsuit via a summons. The summons includes the date you may appear in court to defend your case. If you fail to show up for your hearing, the judge is likely to grant the creditor a judgment and the right to garnish your wages. If you disagree with the judgment, you have ten days to appeal it. Otherwise, the garnishment order goes to your employer, who is responsible for deducting the debt, plus applicable court costs and attorney fees, from your wages.

Employer Responsibility When Served

Upon receiving a garnishment notice against you, your employer must file an answer with the court stating whether it holds wages for you. If so, your employer must mail you a copy of the garnishment order and start making deductions from your wages within the time frame stated on the paperwork. Within 30 days of being served, your employer must start submitting your garnishment withholding to the court.

Paycheck Deduction Limits

Under Tennessee law, for an ordinary wage garnishment, your employer can withhold up to the lesser of 25 percent of your disposable wages or the total by which your disposable wages are greater than 30 times the federal minimum hourly wage. For child support withholding, up to 50 percent of your disposable wages can be garnished. Your disposable wages are your earnings after federal payroll taxes and applicable health insurance deductions. Tennessee law lets you protect an extra $2.50 of your wages for each of your dependent children that reside in the state.

Garnishments by Government Entities

Your wages can be garnished for government debts in Tennessee without a court order. If you owe delinquent federal taxes, the Internal Revenue Service can garnish your wages. The U.S. Department of Education can garnish for unpaid federal student loans, and the Tennessee Department of Revenue can garnish for back state taxes.

Solutions for Handling a Debt or Garnishment

In all cases, you’re given an opportunity to settle the matter before it gets to the wage garnishment stage. For instance, upon receiving notification of a lawsuit, you may contact the creditor to establish a payment arrangement. If you dispute the debt, follow the instructions on the summons or garnishment notice to explain your side of the story. If you lost the lawsuit and have property or earn wages over a certain amount, you may file a Motion to Pay by Installments with the court, according to the Legal Aid of East Tennessee website. The motion will stop the garnishment until your hearing date, at which time the judge will assign an amount that you should pay. Provided you pay as instructed by the court, your wages will not be garnished.

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