If you’re behind on one or more of your financial obligations, this is likely what you fear most: garnishment. That’s when a creditor withdraws money from your bank account or deducts cash from your earnings, all to collect what they believe they have coming. If this happens to you, here’s how to handle a garnishment.
What is Garnishment?
This is a legal process through which a creditor aims to secure money from your bank account or paycheck to satisfy a debt. In most cases, creditors may garnish up to 25% of your wages, but there are no such limits on your bank account.
How the Process Works
State laws vary, but usually, a creditor must get a court judgment before it can initiate a garnishment against you (note that neither student loan creditors nor the IRS are required to first sue you). That necessitates the filing of a lawsuit. You’ll be notified of such filing via an official court “serving,” and you also may hear from prosecuting attorneys.
If a judgment is filed against you, next up is the filing of paperwork to begin the garnishment process, of which you’ll be notified. Such notices will say something along the lines of “Notice of Intent to Garnish” or “Notice of Intent to Levy.” It’s crucial that you don’t ignore such notices, as upsetting as they may be, because you usually have a limited time to respond.
Communicate with Your Creditor
Ideally, you never get to the garnishment stage. If you know you can’t pay a creditor, don’t start missing payments without contacting your creditor to see whether there are alternative payment options. Avoiding debt collectors is not the way to go, either.
When communicating with your creditor, see if you can get them to agree to allowing you to just pay interest for a spell. You may also propose to make partial or no payments over a certain period, or to pay less than what you owe to satisfy your debt using a company such as Freedom Debt Relief. Or perhaps you can get your creditor to lower your interest rate.
Note that dealing with debt collectors and creditors is easier before you’re sued, because once that happens, it’s all about lawyers. You may want to get one too, or at least snag a free or low-cost consultation. Find a consumer attorney at the National Association of Consumer Advocates. You may also try your area legal aid office. After all, bank account garnishments from debt collectors are serious business.
If none of that works, and you’re being sued, you still may be able to get out of a judgment or gain some leverage. If you can, try to reach a settlement before a judgment is obtained.
Your options become more limited if a judgment is entered against you, although you still may be able to negotiate a settlement.
If the creditor secures a judgment and requests a garnishment, they must alert you before it takes place. This gives you an opportunity to plead your case. Even at this point, some creditors will block the garnishment if payment arrangements are made.
Bankruptcy as an Option
You also can stop a garnishment by filing bankruptcy, which will trigger an injunction known as an automatic stay. Such an injunction halts most collection efforts, including lawsuits and garnishments.
Only under special circumstances will a court allow a garnishment to continue upon a creditor’s request. Such permission is rare.
As for your debt, whether bankruptcy can discharge it hinges upon your debt type and the kind of bankruptcy you file.
Ultimately, the hope is that you never have to employ ways to handle a garnishment. As we say, if you’re in over your head in unsecured obligations, debt settlement through Freedom Debt Relief can help you avoid the stressful legal process above.