When you owe a significant amount of money to one or more creditors in the state of Florida, one way that this debt can be recovered is by wage garnishment. In some states and areas, a person’s entire income can be withheld to repay these debts. However, Florida has a detailed set of laws regarding how much and what type of income is eligible for withholding through garnishment.
Here’s what you need to know about them:
Why Does Wage Garnishment Occur?
Debt recovery is a tricky business. When people fall into debt, they typically do not have the extra funds at their disposal to repay those debts in a single payment. Because of this, many people abandon attempts to repay these debts at all – until forced to do so.
This is the purpose of wage garnishment. This is an order sent directly from the court to your employer ordering that a portion of your paycheck be directed toward repayment of these debts. While some people may worry that they will lose their job for sustaining such an order, it is technically illegal for your employer to do this. They are, however, legally mandated to comply with the order in terms of withholding a portion of your pay to offset your owed debt, so no matter how much they like you or your services, they still have to comply with this mandate.
When is it Legal for a Creditor to Garnish Your Wages in Florida?
Securing a wage garnishment order in the state of Florida is no simple process. First, your creditor must prove in court that you owe a significant or ongoing debt. If they can prove that you are behind on something like a credit card payment or owe a substantial medical bill for example, then they can receive what is known as a money judgment against you.
This is the case in most types of debt recovery. However, there are a few types of debt that can be recovered through wage garnishment without the requirement of obtaining a money judgment first. These will be discussed later, as they are just outside the lines of the typical wage garnishment laws in Florida.
Legal Limits of Wage Garnishment Laws in Florida
It is important to note that while a significant portion of your total earnings can be withheld via wage garnishment, the state of Florida does place limitations on these amounts in relation to your overall income. The idea is to allow people who are working for a living to continue to meet their basic needs while also repaying their debts.
The actual figures for these limitations are as follows:
Your creditor may garnish only one-quarter of your overall earnings OR the total amount by which your total income exceeds the federal minimum wage multiplied by thirty. In instances where working people in Florida earn less than thirty times the federal minimum wage after mandatory deductions, those wages are not eligible for garnishment at all.
These rules are in place to protect citizens from being financially devastated by the consequences of past mistakes. Just because you have previously been unable to repay a debt doesn’t mean that you should have to live in continual poverty as a result. Being able to pay your bills and meet your basic needs despite being in debt should not be a privilege reserved for those who are living very comfortably. These laws are in place to help ensure that.
Specialty Wage Garnishment Laws in Florida
As with most things regarding money and the law, there are some scenarios in which typical rules and mandates do not entirely apply when it comes to wage garnishment laws in Florida.
For example, three types of debt that can be recovered via wage garnishment in Florida without securing a money judgment against an individual include:
- Unpaid income taxes
- Defaulted student loans
- Unpaid child support or other court-ordered support payments
Child support is an automatic garnishment since a 1988 federal mandate made it so. Those currently supporting a spouse or child via their earnings can see as much as 50% garnished as a result of this mandate, while those not supporting another person via their income may see as much as 60% lost to garnishment.
Income tax and student loan debts typically involve a much small amount of garnishment. For example, student loan debt can only take up to 15% of your total income via garnishment, a much more manageable number for most Americans. This, again, is a federal mandate.
Another exception to straightforward wage garnishment laws in Florida is the state’s‘head of family’ exemption. This states that if an individual does not explicitly agree in writing to participating in the garnishment and their income is considered the primary source of support for a family, these wages cannot be garnished if they total $750 or less per week. That’s a complicated list of qualifiers, but it is once again designed to prevent poverty as a punishment for past financial mistakes. However, to qualify for this exemption, you’ll have to file an affidavit and claim it – it doesn’t happen automatically.
Is There an Alternative to Wage Garnishment?
You may be wondering if there are alternatives to having your wages garnished for debts owed in the state of Florida. There are – but not all of these options are in your best interest, depending on the amount and type of debt you owe.
A few alternatives to undergoing wage garnishment include:
- Challenging the garnishment if you believe it is happening unfairly
- Negotiating a repayment plan or reduced repayment option for your debt
- Working with a debt consolidation program to lower your debt
- Filing for bankruptcy
Not sure if any of these options are right for you? Still need help sorting out the details of wage garnishment laws in Florida? Talk to the legal team at Van Horn Law Group. They can help you determine how much of your income can be garnished – and what your alternatives might be.