How to Stop Wage Garnishment in California
If you are facing wage garnishment in California then there are several steps you can take to stop the garnishment. In California when a creditor obtains a judgment against and is able to determine who your employer is, they may take steps to garnish your wages. If you owe money from a pay day loan, credit card, personal loan or medical bill, and you do not pay then they may eventually file a lawsuit in court, obtain a judgment and garnish your wages. In California the law allows creditors to garnish 25% of your net income. This is a substantial amount if you are living paycheck to paycheck and may affect your ability to provide for your necessities and your families needs.
What are Your Options If a Creditor Has Served Your Employer with a Wage Garnishment Order?
1. Call the Creditor - There is nothing lost in trying to talk to the creditor and work out a different arrangement to repay the debt back. If the creditor is open to setting up a payment plan then you can avoid having your wages garnished. Unfortunately this is rarely successful. Some creditors who are understanding may be willing to work with you. Many creditors are for the most part not open to discussing payment arrangements once they have a garnishment order that can collect on the money owed. If you are lucky you may encounter a somewhat open creditor to setting up a payment plan.
2. File an Exemption - In California you may be able to stop the Wage Garnishment through filing an exemption. You may be able to have the wage garnishment stop or reduce the amount being garnished if you can show that the money is needed to support you or your family. If you can show that the the money is needed to provide for the basic necessities of life then you may be able to stop the garnishment. There are several steps you need to take in order to stop the garnishment through filing a claim of exemptions in California. First you need to:
Directions on Completing the Form:
- In the top section: Attorney or Party Without Attorney: Fill in your name, address, telephone.
- Fill in the information on the court location, plaintiff, defendant and, case number and levying officer file number by utilizing a copy of the garnishment order. The order should have this information, which you can use to fill in these sections. Do not fill in the boxes that state "For Levying Officer Use Only" or "For Court Use Only".
- In the section "Attorney For" write in "In Pro Per", if you are representing yourself.
- Question 1: Fill in your name
- Question 2: Mark the box for the the total earnings needed to support yourself. If you do not need all then mark the box that allows you to specify the amount per pay period that you need.
- Question 3: Mark that you want all documents sent to you, if you do not have an attorney
- Question 4: State how much you are willing to have the creditor withhold. If none then mark this box. If you are willing to have a portion withheld then mark the second box and state the amount per pay period.
- Question 5: Mark how often you are paid.
- Print your name at the end, and sign and date the document.
Fill out a Financial Statement. You must include a financial statement with your Claim of Exemptions. The financial statement details your income and your expenses. The California form can be found here:
Directions on Completing Financial Statement:
- Question 1: List all of those people that depend on you for support, their age, relationship to you, and their monthly take home income and source.
- Question 2: List your monthly gross income, then list the monthly deductions for taxes and any other deductions such as health insurance, life insurance, and retirement plans. Do not list the garnishment as a deduction. Deduct section a from b to come up with your total net monthly income. In Question 2d add any additional income you receive such as child support, disability benefits, retirement income, etc. List your total monthly income by adding c and d together and listing it on e.
- Question 3: List the assets your spouse, your dependents and you own. List the total cash you have. In 3b list the type of account and with which bank you have the account. List the amounts you currently have in each account. In 3c list your vehicle equity. If your car is paid off or has equity list the make and model and the equity in the car. If the car is upside down then the car has no equity and should not be listed as having equity. In 3d list the equity in your home. If the home is upside down because the mortgage is higher then what it is worth, then the house has no equity. In 3e list any other property you own, and give a realistic value of equity. For example if you have used furniture, you should value it based on what it would be worth now and not what you bought it for.
- Question 4: List your total monthly expenses for each of the items and list any additional expenses that are necessary for your support in 4m. List your total monthly expenses in 4n. If you are stating that you need all of your income to provide for your basic necessities then the total expenses should be the same or higher than your monthly income.
- Question 5: List all creditors which you are making monthly payments that are necesary for your support such as vehicle payments, furniture, etc. List the name of the creditor, what it is for, the amount of the monthly payment, balance owed and who owes it.
- Question 6: Describe any other facts that support your Claim of Exemptions. Provide as much detail as possible that will support your claims and help the judge understand your situation.
- Question 7: If you are being garnished by a creditor and it is not for child support or alimony then mark this box.
- Question 8: If you are being garnished for child support or alimony then mark this box.
- Question 9: If you are living with your spouse then mark "my spouse has signed below" and your spouse will also have to sign the form. If you are living apart then mark the box that states this and your spouse will not have to sign the form.
- Print your name, date, and sign the form.
Attach the financial statement to the Claim of Exemptions and file the documents with the leyving officer and not the court. Make sure that you also provide an additional copy of each documents to the levying officer. Do not try to file the documents with the courts.
3. File for Bankruptcy - You can stop the wage garnishment from proceeding by filing for bankruptcy in California. Most people may see this as a last resort but the truth is that it may be the better option for many people. When you file for bankruptcy there is an automatic stay put in place. The automatic stay prevents the garnishment from continuing. Once the bankruptcy case is filed the sheriff's office will be informed of your filing and they will issue a release to your employer, that will prevent the garnishment from continuing.
4. Fight the Judgment- There are other options you can also seek to stop a wage garnishment such as fighting the entry of a default judgment obtained based on lack of notice. If you have a basis you may be able to vacate the judgment that was entered against you. In California you can vacate a default judgment if you can show that the service of the summons did not result in actual notice in time to defend the lawsuit. You can also vacate a judgment if you can show that the entry of default was the result of "mistake, inadvertance, suprise or excusable neglect". In order to vacate the judgment you must file a motion to vacate a default judgment. If the judgment is vacated then it will stop the garnishment. Keep in mind that this may not be a permanent solution. The creditor may choose to refile the lawsuit and correct what error was made and proceed with obtaining a judgment against you and garnishing your wages.
For information on related topics:
How to Stop a Bank Levy in California?
Can Social Security or SSI be Garnished?
The above information is not intended as legal advice. Please ensure that you consult with an attorney in regards to your options.