What is Wage Garnishment and How Will it Affect Me?

What is Wage Garnishment and How Will it Affect Me?

Last updated: September 2015

What is a wage garnishment?

If someone claims that you owe them money, they can sue you in court. If the person or company, called a "creditor", wins the case, the court will give them a judgment against you. A judgment is a court order stating how much you owe to this creditor. The creditor may try to collect the money from you by taking part of your wages. That process is called a "Wage Garnishment" or "Wage Deduction". If your wages are garnished, your employer must reduce the amount of your paycheck and turn money over to the creditor. The creditor starts this process by sending a "summons" or "citation" to your employer.

When does the garnishment start and how do I find out?

Your employer must start deducting some of your wages as soon as it gets the summons or citation. The employer then must hold the funds until the court decides whether the money should be paid to the creditor. The court may then order your employer to continue deducting your wages until the judgment is paid.

The creditor must mail you a notice of your rights. The notice must tell you the date and time the case is to be heard in court. That date is called the "return date". On the return date, the court will decide whether your employer should turn over to the creditor the amount deducted from your paycheck.

What amount of my wages can a creditor take?

Your employer cannot deduct all of your wages. A certain amount of your wages is exempt, or protected by law. You are allowed to keep disposable earnings (your pay after taxes and mandatory deductions) of at least:

  • $371.25 weekly
  • $742.50 bi-weekly (every other week)
  • $804.37 semi-monthly (twice a month)
  • $1608.75 monthly.

If your disposable earnings are less than the exempted amount, your wages cannot be garnished. If your disposable earnings are greater than the exempted amount, then your wages can be deducted by the lesser of:

  • 15% of your gross (before-tax) wages; or
  • the amount of your take-home pay (after-tax) wages that exceeds the exempted amount above.

You have gross pay of $600 a week and take-home pay of $500 a week. You need to compare these two amounts:
     (A)  15% of $600 = $90.
     (B)  $500 - $371.25= $128.75.

Since the lower of these two amounts is $90, the most that can be garnished is $90 weekly.

You have gross pay of $1000 semi-monthly and take-home pay of $850 semi-monthly. You need to compare these two amounts:
     (A)  15% of $1000 = $150.00.
     (B)  $850 - $804.37= $45.63.

Since the lower of these two amounts is $45.63, the most that can be garnished is $45.63 semi-monthly.

What if my paycheck is already being garnished?

If your paycheck is already being garnished by another creditor, this creditor will get in line behind that creditor.  Generally, if your paycheck is already being garnished by one creditor for the amount allowed by law, it cannot be garnished by a second creditor until the existing garnishment is paid off.  However, if the amount that is being taken out of your check is less than what can be garnished, this creditor will get the difference.

What should I do if too much is taken out of my check?

Look at your pay stub and see if your employer is deducting the correct amount. If your figures show that your employer is taking out too much, talk to your employer. If your employer made a mistake and does not correct it, you will need to appear in court on the "return date" listed on your court papers to make sure that the proper amount is deducted.

What if I cannot afford the garnishment?

If this case is a small claims case (up to $10,000), the court has the authority to enter into an installment order under Illinois Supreme Court Rule 288 and stay the enforcement of the judgment and other supplementary processes during compliance with such order.  The installment payments of small claims judgments shall not extend over a period in excess of three year's duration.

What do I do when I go to court?

1. Appear in court at the date, time and place given at the "return date" in your court papers.
2. Outside the court room, you will find a bulletin board with a list of all the scheduled court cases for that day.
3. Search the case list for your court case. There will be a number to the left of your case called the "line number."  Remember this number. If your case is not on this list you will need to step into the court room and speak to the clerk.
4. Step into the court room and wait in line to speak to the clerk at the front of the room to the right of the judge's bench. Tell the clerk your name and the line number for your case.
5. Wait in the back of the court room until your case is called by the clerk.
6. When your case is called, step up to the front of the court room. Tell the judge your name and present your defense.  

  • If the garnishment amount is incorrect, you must tell the judge why the garnishment is incorrect and what the proper garnishment amount should be.  
  • If the judgment is $10,000 or less and you cannot afford the garnishment, you can ask the court to use its discretion to enter into a court ordered payment plan to pay the judgment  plus post-judgment interest of 9% per year and court costs within 3 years.

7. Do not leave the court room without a copy of the order signed by the judge.

Further Help

If you need to speak to an attorney, you can visit the CARPLS Self-Help Collection Desk in Room 1401 of the Daley Center or you can call the CARPLS Legal Aid Hotline at (312) 738-9200.

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