Garnishing Wages in Washington
Under Washington law, a creditor garnishing wages can take only a certain amount of your net (“take home”) wages; they cannot take it all. Generally, the most they can take is 25% of your net pay, but they have to leave you with at least 35 times the federal minimum wage ($7.25) for each week – which equals $253.75 per week or about $1,100 a month. RCW 6.15.020. This is the minimum you can protect/exempt from a garnishing creditor. Working the two rules together, the garnishing creditor can take 25% of your net (“take home”) pay as long as doing so would not leave you with less than the minimum protected figure.
A few examples might help.
1. NET WEEKLY CHECK: You earn $250 a week (net). RULE: The creditor can take 25% of your pay as long as that does not leave you with less than the minimum of $253.75. RESULT: They get zero.
25% of $250 is $62.50. So, they can take $62.50 as long as you are left with at least the minimum amount. Your check is already below the minimum $253.75. Thus, they get zero.
2. NET WEEKLY CHECK: You earn $300 a week (net). RULE: The creditor can take 25% of your pay as long as that does not leave you with less than the minimum of $253.75. RESULT: They can take $46.25 (< 25%)
25% of $300 is $75. So, they can take 25%/$75 as long as you are left with at least the minimum amount.
If they take $75, you have $225 left over from your original $300 net. BUT $225 is less than the minimum protected for a week of $253.75 above. Therefore, the creditor cannot take the entire 25%; they can only take the amount that leaves you with at least $253.75. If you start with $300 and you get the minimum $253.75, then they get the remaining $46.25 (so, they do not get the full 25%).
3. NET WEEKLY CHECK: You earn $350 a week (net). RULE: The creditor can take 25% of your pay as long as that does not leave you with less than the minimum of $253.75. RESULT: They can take $87.75 (full 25%).
25% of $350 is $87.50. So, they can take $87.50 as long as you are left with at least the minimum amount.
If they take $87.50 you have $262.50 left over from your original $350 net. $262.50 is more than the minimum protected for a week of $253.75 above. Therefore, the creditor can take the full 25% of $87.50 because taking this amounts still leave you with at least the minimum.
4. NET WEEKLY CHECK: If you make more than $338.33 (net) a week, they get the full 25% every time. So, if you get $1,000 a week, they can garnish $250 each week or more than a $1,000 a month.
NOTE: The rules change for garnishments to recover past due child support or spousal maintenance. In that case, the creditor can garnish 50% of the net wages.
How Long Does a Wage Garnishment Last?
Wage garnishments are described as a “continuing lien” on earnings. Wage garnishments “continue” for a period of 60 days from the effective date of the writ. RCW 6.27.350. Basically, you can be garnished for two months. If the creditor wants to garnish after that, they would have to get and serve a new Writ of Garnishment – which would also last for 60 days. And so on until the debt is paid.
Filing Bankruptcy Stops Garnishment
Filing a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy creates an injunction against wage garnishment. The injunction is the “automatic stay” of 11 USC § 362. Simply, filing stops a garnishment. But the lien on the earnings created by the service of the writ remains. However, most garnishing creditors will agree to release the lien (and you’ll get your full check).
Get Your Money Back
As it turns out, filing bankruptcy at the right time may allow you to get some or all of your money back from the garnishing creditor. Simply, if you have more than $600 garnished in the 90 days prior to filing, that likely creates a “preference” under 11 USC § 547. In short, that means you can ask the creditor to return the more than $600 taken in that period if the Chapter 7 Trustee does not want the money (and they normally don’t). If you have had $599 garnished in the 90 days before filing, you can’t get any back. If you waited to file until after the next wage garnishment and it put you over $600 for the preceding 90 days, then you would get garnished funds back. Yes, we can help you get the money back.
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If you are being garnished or are concerned you might be garnished, give us a call and we’ll help you with your options.
The Statute – RCW 6.27.150
If you want to see the actual statute that says how much can be taken, here it is.
RCW 6.27.150 Exemption of earnings — Amount.
(1) Except as provided in subsection (2) of this section, if the garnishee is an employer owing the defendant earnings, then for each week of such earnings, an amount shall be exempt from garnishment which is the greatest of the following:
(a) Thirty-five times the federal minimum hourly wage in effect at the time the earnings are payable; or
(b) Seventy-five percent of the disposable earnings of the defendant.
(2) In the case of a garnishment based on a judgment or other order for child support or court order for spousal maintenance, other than a mandatory wage assignment order pursuant to chapter 26.18 RCW, or a mandatory assignment of retirement benefits pursuant to chapter 41.50 RCW, the exemption shall be fifty percent of the disposable earnings of the defendant.
(3) The exemptions stated in this section shall apply whether such earnings are paid, or are to be paid, weekly, monthly, or at other intervals, and whether earnings are due the defendant for one week, a portion thereof, or for a longer period.
(4) Unless directed otherwise by the court, the garnishee shall determine and deduct exempt amounts under this section as directed in the writ of garnishment and answer, and shall pay these amounts to the defendant.
(5) No money due or earned as earnings as defined in RCW 6.27.010 shall be exempt from garnishment under the provisions of RCW 6.15.010, as now or hereafter amended.