Money that cannot be taken from you ("garnished") to pay off a debt
Authored By: Northwest Justice Project
Learn more about the types of income and property the law protects from garnishment by creditors. These funds cannot be taken from you to pay off a debt, even one a court has said you owe. #0208EN
- Should I read this?
- What will I learn from reading this?
- What income is exempt?
- How much of my wages are exempt?
- Should I get my paycheck by direct deposit?
- Should I keep my money in an account at a bank I owe money to?
- My creditor has sued me over a debt I owe. What should I do?
- I received an order to attend Supplemental Proceedings. What should I do?
- Get Legal Help
Should I read this?
Yes, if you are having a hard time paying debts and you think a person or company you owe might sue you. You might be worried that whoever sues you can take money or property from you (“garnish” you).
What will I learn from reading this?
You will learn which types of income and property the law protects from garnishment by creditors (person or company you owe). They cannot take certain funds from you to pay off a debt, even one a court says you owe. These funds are “exempt.”
*There are a few exceptions to these exemptions for child support, federal student loans, and some other debts to the federal government.
What income is exempt?
*These are general exemptions. Every case is different. Talk to a lawyer about your situation.
These types of income or money cannot be taken from you to pay off a debt:
Social Security disability and retirement benefits (unless you owe child support, federal student loans, or a federal tax debt)
Social Security Income (SSI) benefits
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits (state welfare)
Aged, Blind, or Disabled (ABD) benefits (state disability)
Unemployment Compensation (unless you owe child support)
VA (Veteran’s Administration) benefits (with some exceptions for money you owe the government or for support)
Federal student loans
Child support you receive
Money in your bank account:
$2,500 is exempt if your only judgment is for private student loan debt
$2,000 is exempt if the judgment you are being garnished for is consumer debt
$500 in your bank account is exempt for all other debts (and $1,000 additional cash, for a total exemption of up to $1,500)
Any federal payments issued in response to the COVID-19 pandemic (including stimulus payments and child tax credit money) until the end of the pandemic emergency declared by the governor of Washington
*Most garnishments are judgments for consumer debt. These include debts from credit cards, doctor bills, hospital bills, utility bills, phone bills, personal loans from a bank or credit union, debts owed to a landlord or former landlord, or any other debt for personal, family, or household purposes.
*DO NOT PUT ANY MONEY OTHER THAN SOCIAL SECURITY OR VA BENEFITS IN A BANK ACCOUNT if you can help it.
Even though some or all the money in your account may be exempt from garnishment, the bank may freeze your account anyway. This can cause bounced checks, overdraft fees, and other bank charges. You must file an exemption claim form to get the exempt money returned to your account. Read How to Claim Personal Property Exemptions. You may not be able to use your money for weeks. You will not be able to pay your rent and other bills during this time.
Most pensions are exempt from garnishment even after you receive them. But some are not. Do not have pension checks direct deposited into a bank account, if you can help it. See if the pension fund can mail checks directly to your home.
If a creditor tries to take money from your bank account, call CLEAR at 1-888-201-1014 for help. Also, read How to Claim Personal Property Exemptions.
How much of my wages are exempt?
It depends on what the debt or judgment was for.
If you earn less than any of these amounts, none of your wages can be garnished:
$479.15 weekly (35x the state minimum hourly wage, which is $13.69/hour)
$958.30 every 2 weeks
$1,038.16 twice a month
Even if you earn more than these amounts, you may still keep 35x the state minimum hourly wage or 80% of your net pay, whichever is more.
*Net pay is your earnings after subtracting mandatory deductions. Mandatory deductions include Social Security, Medicare, and federal income taxes.
PRIVATE STUDENT LOAN JUDGMENTS:
If you earn less than these amounts, none of your wages can be garnished:
$834.50 weekly (50x the highest minimum hourly wage in the State, which is $16.69/hour)
$1,669 every 2 weeks
$1,808.08 twice a month
- $3,616.17 monthly
Even if you earn more than these amounts, you may still keep 50x the highest minimum hourly wage in the State or 85% of your net pay, whichever is more.
If you earn less than these amounts, none of your wages can be garnished.
$507.50 every 2 weeks
$549.80 twice a month
- $1,099.58 monthly
Even if you earn more than these amounts, you may still keep 35x the federal minimum wage or 75% of your net pay, whichever is more.
50% of your net pay is protected from garnishment
Should I get my paycheck by direct deposit?
No. You should not do this. Wages are exempt from garnishment at the time your employer pays you. If you cash your check and put the money in a bank account, or if your employer pays you by direct deposit, a creditor may claim that the funds are no longer exempt as wages.
*Never give creditors permission to withdraw money from your bank account.
Should I keep my money in an account at a bank I owe money to?
No. Your deposit bank can take money from your bank account to pay what you owe them.
Examples: Do not have a savings or checking account at a bank where you have one of the bank’s credit cards, or where you owe on a loan.
My creditor has sued me over a debt I owe. What should I do?
Talk with a lawyer right away.
*Do not ignore court papers!
Even if your income and assets are exempt from garnishment, you should still fill out a Declaration Regarding Income and Assets Exempt from Garnishment form to file with the court. It will show that the creditor cannot take your income and assets. Read When Should I File a Declaration of Exempt Income and Assets.
I received an order to attend Supplemental Proceedings. What should I do?
You must comply with (follow) the order. Read Supplemental Proceedings.
Get Legal Help
Visit Northwest Justice Project to find out how to get legal help.