Wage garnishments put a major crimp in your style. Honeymoons, mortgages and starting a family are all put on hold when you owe someone money. However, keep in mind that a threat of garnishment may not hold any water. Debt collectors know that naive consumers respond quickly with a payment to threats of lawsuits and garnishment. In actuality, wage garnishment on a private debt requires a court order. The timeframes involved in wage garnishment depend on your state of residence.
Defaulting on a Private Debt
Defaulting on a private debt does not give the creditor the right to touch your paycheck. Don't respond to threats of garnishment if you haven't been served a lawsuit. It's not legal and the threats are meaningless. Typically, you have 3 to 4 months after you miss your first payment before the debt goes to a bill collector. After a period in debt collection, the bill could go to an attorney's office for civil action.
Going to Court
You are served with the lawsuit approximately 30 days prior to court. During this time, you can negotiate a repayment plan or settlement with the creditor to avoid going to court. If you don't settle, go to court and defend your case. Fail to show up to court and you do the debt collector's work for them. The creditor gets a default judgment against you and can garnish your paycheck.
Obtaining a Garnishment
In most states, the attorney can take the court's judgment to the sheriff or levying officer to get the garnishment ball rolling. The sheriff drafts a garnishment order and gives it to your employer. The garnishment typically occurs on the next paycheck after receiving the garnishment order. In some states, such as Ohio, the employer is given 20 days to answer the garnishment order before withholding wages. You also may have the right to a hearing before the garnishment occurs if you have a hardship situation.
Always attempt to work out a payment plan or settlement before you go to court. If your creditor obtains a garnishment, you can say goodbye to 25 percent of your paycheck until the debt is paid unless your state places further restrictions on the amount. For example, wage garnishment is not allowed in the state of Texas. The creditor also can tack on interest charges and court costs inflating the amount owed making the garnishment last longer. Even with a judgment in hand, a creditor may take a settlement for a lump sum payment to get the matter off the books.
Leigh Thompson began writing in 2007 and specializes in creating content for websites. She has been published online in various capacities. Thompson has an associate degree in information technology from the University of Kansas and is working on a bachelor's degree in business and personal finance.