Pennsylvania Garnishment Law
Wage Garnishment is probably one of the most feared terms in all of litigation. If you lose a case and your wages are garnished then you are in a very, very bad position. You have no control over this process and the wages are garnished until the debt is paid in full. Fortunately, for most of the cases that we handle, wage garnishment is NOT a possibility.
A garnishment is a way of collecting on a monetary judgment whereby the Plaintiff (the person or company who is owed the money) essentially takes money that is owned by the Defendant while that money is in the hands of a third party (most often a bank or an employer or a credit union). The way that a garnishment typically works is this: Debt Collector files a lawsuit against you… you lose in court or let them get a default judgment…they send written interrogatories to your bank…and your bank account is then frozen.
Except for limited circumstances involving federal student loans and child support (possibly some IRS or criminal restitution matters as well), a garnishment cannot occur unless (1) you are sued and (2) you lose. In other words, a person or company cannot simply garnish your wages or bank account just because you owe them money. They have to sue you, win, and then obtain a final judgment (meaning that no appeals are filed or if they are filed then they are concluded).
The Wage Garnishment Threat
If my wages cannot be garnished, then why did the collection agency make that threat to me? There are 2 reasons. One, they may not know the law. Wage Garnishment is legal in 46 states. Pennsylvania is one of the four where wage garnishment is not legal. Two, they made that threat because they are trying to scare you into paying them, that’s why. The fear that this threat strikes into a consumer is great, after all, no one wants to have their wages garnished. This threat works very often, in fact, it is the number one threat that we hear collectors using against our clients. Let’s be clear, to make a threat of wage garnishment on a credit card case in Pennsylvania is illegal. It is a violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA)(assuming that all legal criteria are met). If a collector makes a wage garnishment threat, then the consumer is entitled to receive up to $1000 in what are called “statutory damages” (these are damages afforded to you simply because the debt collector did a bad thing). The consumer is ALSO entitled to recovery of reasonable attorney fees. This means that the debt collector has to pay us to sue them if they make a wage garnishment threat. Think about that for a minute… they have to PAY US to SUE THEM. It’s truly a wonderful law that provides protections to those who otherwise could not protect themselves.
So the question gets asked once again…why did the collector make this threat if they knew that it was illegal and we could sue them? Well, aside from the strength and scariness of the threat, debt collectors know one other thing… you are very unlikely to contact a consumer attorney. That’s right, the debt collector knows that the people that they harass are very unlikely to do anything about it. Statistics that we have seen indicate that approximately 90% of the people who are in contact with a debt collector either make payment arrangements with that collector or in the alternative they put their head in the sand and do absolutely nothing, allowing the collector to obtain a default judgment against them. Both of those choices are very bad decisions to make. So right off the bat, the debt collector knows that they are going to win 90% of the time. That’s a very good success rate, don’t you think?
So that leaves 10% of the consumers who don’t pay or don’t put their head in the sand, right? Well, about 5 out of those 10 consumers try to handle the collection action themselves…which is a huge mistake. The debt collector has an attorney who has probably handled 5000 of these cases, and you think that you can beat him? Good luck with that…. So that leaves 5% of the people who actually call a consumer attorney for legal help. Well guess, what… those 5% are the people who are going to have their rights protected to the fullest, and in most cases, they are not going to pay the debt collector a dime.
So When Can My Wages Be Garnished?
There are a few circumstances where wages can be garnished in Pennsylvania:
- For PHEAA student loans
- For Federal Student loans
- For child support
- For judgments relating to final Divorce proceedings
- For room and board or for back rent
- For a validly obtained out of state judgment that is properly transferred into PA
Please contact our office at 412-823-8003 for assistance with any garnishment questions. Please note that we DO NOT assist collectors in attempting to garnish accounts.
What about Spousal property?
Spousal property is protected from a creditor unless the creditor obtains a judgment against both spouses. In credit card cases this would be extremely rare. Most credit card accounts are owned by an individual and the spouse is an “authorized user”.
What if only one spouse is sued?
The creditor will only be able to go after assets that the spouse (who is sued) owns individually or that is owned jointly with someone who is not the spouse.
I'm on my Mother's bank account...
This can be a real problem if you or your Mother are sued. A creditor can go after joint accounts (except for spousal accounts) once it obtains a judgment in a court of law.
Can my wages be garnished?
Wages cannot be garnished for credit card actions that arise in Pennsylvania. Having said that, if a judgment arises in another state and is transferred to PA, a garnishment may be had. Wages are no longer wages once they enter your bank account, so if there is a judgment against you, the money in the bank account potentially can be garnished.
What if a debt collector threatened wage garnishment?
If a debt collector threatens wage garnishment for a credit card debt, you likely have a claim against the collector. Making such a threat is illegal in Pennsylvania under most circumstances. To make matters worse for the debt collector, please know that they will have to pay our legal fees for suing them.
My account is garnished, what can I do?
As you can imagine, this is a very bad situation to be in. Often times, there isn’t much that can be done. At this point in the proceedings, the collector has sued you and obtained a judgment. If the account is a spousal account, the collector will not be able to take the money unless it obtains a judgment against both spouses.
Free Case Review
Questions about wage or bank account garnishment? Call us at 412-823-8003 for a free, no obligation consult.