Many people are struggling to make ends meet in Wisconsin as the economy slowly begins to recover from the Great Recession that started in 2008. Even those who are lucky enough to still have jobs are having difficulty paying their bills, and many are falling further and further behind. Creditors have become more aggressive in their collection tactics, and will not hesitate to get judgments against people who have unpaid bills in order to be able to garnish people’s wages. Wisconsin residents should understand the garnishment process and some defenses that they have against wage garnishment.
Wisconsin law defines earnings garnishment as an action where a creditor collects for a civil judgment for money damages, including statutory interests and costs, from the wages of the person against whom the creditor obtained the judgment. This means that a creditor first needs to get an order from the court stating that a person owes the money before the creditor may begin taking money out of a person’s paycheck.
Once the creditor has obtained a judgment, the creditor can file a garnishment notice with the court for a fee. The creditor will then get papers to serve on the person who owes money and the employer instructing the employer to begin withholding wages starting the next pay period after receiving the notice. The papers that the creditor serves on the person who owes explain the defenses a person has to wage garnishment and an answer he or she can file if any of those defenses apply. If the creditor does not believe the defenses apply, the creditor may request a court hearing to determine whether the defenses are applicable.
If the person who owes money does not file an answer, the garnishment commences and can last for 13 weeks after the notice. The garnishment period can extend longer than 13 weeks if both parties agree in writing.
Defenses to garnishment
Wisconsin law puts limits on how much of a person’s wages a creditor may garnish. In general, a creditor may not take more than 20 percent of a person’s net income, and only one creditor may garnish a person’s wages at a time. If a person also has money withheld for child support in addition to a creditor’s garnishment, the total withholding may equal 25 percent of his or her net income.
If a person’s total household income is less than the federal poverty level, then all of his or her wages are protected from garnishment. If garnishment would put a person’s household income below the federal poverty level, then only the amount above the federal poverty level is subject to garnishment. If a person has been receiving or approved to receive public assistance within the six months prior to the garnishment action, he or she is automatically protected from garnishment.
Bankruptcy may be a solution
Even if a person stops creditors from garnishing wages, the debts do not disappear. Those who are battling wage garnishment and creditor harassment may want to consider bankruptcy as a way to reorganize their finances. People can discharge many of their debts in bankruptcy and free up their wages to keep from falling further behind in their future bills. If you are facing wage garnishment and do not know how to get out from underneath your debts, speak with an experienced Wisconsin debt relief attorney who can let you know your options.