A garnishment happens when someone you owe money to has your employer take money directly out of your paycheck, or has your bank take money directly out of your bank account, to pay the debt. Garnishment usually only happens after you have been sued in court and the creditor has taken a judgment against you. Once a garnishment has started, it is possible, but not easy, to get it stopped.
The Short Answer is Yes, You Can Stop a Garnishment
The quickest way to stop a garnishment is to pay off the debt. Most people cannot afford to do that, or they would have already done so. The most effective way to stop the garnishment, and keep it from happening again, is to file bankruptcy. There are a couple ways to fight a garnishment without filing bankruptcy, but you will still owe the debt and may find yourself having to fight it multiple times.
Filing a bankruptcy will stop either a wage garnishment or a bank attachment. Filing a bankruptcy puts the automatic stay in place which prevents creditors from trying to collect their debt. Once your bankruptcy case is filed, you will need to notify the creditor and the clerk of courts that you have filed bankruptcy, and it may take a few weeks to get the garnishment stopped. However, you should be able to get back any money that is garnished after the date your bankruptcy case is filed. A competent bankruptcy attorney will be able to help get the garnishment stopped and get any money back that you are due.
If you file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy case, the garnishment will usually be terminated forever. When you receive your bankruptcy discharge, it means that the creditor is not allowed to collect the debt from you ever again, so the creditor will not be able to garnish your wages again. Some debts are not discharged, such as some taxes and student loans. If your debt is not discharged, the creditor can garnish again once your bankruptcy is over.
If you file a Chapter 13 bankruptcy case, the garnishment will be stopped to the creditor. However, Chapter 13 is a type of repayment plan and many courts will require your Chapter 13 payment to be deducted from your pay check. If the debt is discharged, the creditor will not be able to garnish your wages again once your Chapter 13 plan is completed.
The automatic stay goes into effect immediately when you file your bankruptcy case. The only exception is if you have had multiple bankruptcy cases filed within one year. In those cases, your attorney can tell you if you can ask for the stay to be put into effect and still provide you with protection from garnishment.
Fighting the Garnishment Without Filing Bankruptcy
Pay off the debt. The easiest way to stop a garnishment without filing bankruptcy is to pay off the debt. If a garnishment has been started, it is not likely that the creditor will accept a payment plan. (They already have a payment plan by taking the payment out of your check each time you get paid.) You will likely have to pay a lump sum payment. If you are able to make that payment quickly, you may be able to negotiate a lump sum payment that is less than the total amount owed.
Claim an exemption. You may also be able to argue that the funds the creditor is garnishing are exempt. All states and the federal government have laws that set out property that cannot be used to pay creditors. Some income is exempt from collection efforts, such as social security, disability, many retirement payments, and child support. Once a garnishment has been sent to your employer or to your bank, you will receive a notice that lets you object to the garnishment. Once you receive that notice, you will need to respond and tell the court what type of funds the creditor is trying to collect from and that those funds are exempt. You will likely need to attend a hearing at the courthouse. You may have to go through this process multiple times before a creditor stops trying to garnish your wages or your bank account.
Challenge the judgment. It may be possible to ask the court to vacate, get rid of, the judgment that was taken against you that allows the creditor to do a garnishment in the first place. You may be able to argue that proper procedures were not followed in the lawsuit that allowed the creditor to get the judgment, or that the proper procedures were not followed to put the garnishment in place. These steps will likely require you to hire an attorney, and these steps usually must be taken within a month or so of the judgment being taken. But remember, this is a temporary fix. You likely still owe the money and will need to either make a payment arrangement with the creditor, or file a bankruptcy.
Acting Quickly Will Save You Time and Money
When you have received a garnishment notice, it is important to act quickly to protect your money and your rights. There are very strict time limits that you must follow. A good consumer rights attorney will be able to steer you in the right direction.