|The Federal Wage Garnishment Law, Consumer Credit Protection
Act's Title 3 (CCPA)
This fact sheet provides general information concerning the
amount that may be withheld from a person's earnings under
the CCPA and the law's protection from termination because
of garnishment for any single debt.
What is a wage garnishment?
A wage garnishment is any legal or equitable procedure through
which some portion of a person's earnings is required to be
withheld by an employer for the payment of a debt. Most garnishments
are made by court order. Other types of legal or equitable
procedures include IRS or state tax collection agency levies
for unpaid taxes and federal agency administrative garnishments
for non-tax debts owed the federal government.
Wage garnishments do not include voluntary wage assignments
- that is, situations in which employees voluntarily agree
that their employers may turn over some specified amount of
their earnings to a creditor or creditors.
Which Federal law regulates wage garnishment?
Title III of the Consumer Credit Protection Act limits the
amount of an employee's earnings that may be garnished and
protects an employee from being fired if pay is garnished
for only one debt. Title III is administered by the Wage and
Hour Division of the Department of Labor's Employment Standards
Administration. The Wage and Hour Division has no other authority
with regard to garnishments. Questions over issues other than
the amount being garnished or termination should be referred
to the court or agency initiating the withholding action.
For example, questions regarding the priority given to certain
garnishments over others are not matters covered by Title
III and may be referred to the court or agency initiating
the garnishment action.
To whom does the law apply?
The law protects everyone receiving personal earnings, i.e.,
wages, salaries, commissions, bonuses, or other income - including
earnings from a pension or retirement program. Tips are generally
not considered earnings for the purposes of the wage garnishment
The law applies in all 50 states, the District of Columbia,
and all U.S. territories and possessions.
What is the protection against discharge when wages are garnished?
The CCPA prohibits an employer from firing an employee whose
earnings are subject to garnishment for any one debt, regardless
of the number of levies made or proceedings brought to collect
that debt, because of the single garnishment. The Act does
not prohibit discharge because an employee's earnings are
separately garnished for two or more debts.
What are the restrictions on wage garnishment?
The amount of pay subject to garnishment is based on an employee's
"disposable earnings," which is the amount left
after legally required deductions are made. Examples of such
deductions include federal, state, and local taxes, the employee's
share of State Unemployment Insurance and Social Security.
It also includes withholdings for employee retirement systems
required by law.
Deductions not required by law - such as those for voluntary
wage assignments, union dues, health and life insurance, contributions
to charitable causes, purchases of savings bonds, retirement
plan contributions (except those required by law) and payments
to employers for payroll advances or purchases of merchandise
- usually may not be subtracted from gross earnings when calculating
disposable earnings under the CCPA.
The law sets the maximum amount that may be garnished in any
workweek or pay period, regardless of the number of garnishment
orders received by the employer. For ordinary garnishments
(i.e., those not for support, bankruptcy, or any state or
federal tax), the weekly amount may not exceed the lesser
of two figures: 25 percent of the employee's disposable earnings,
or the amount by which an employee's disposable earnings are
greater than 30 times the federal minimum wage (currently
$5.15 an hour).
For illustration, if the pay period is weekly and disposable
earnings are $154.50 ($5.15 X 30) or less, there can be no
garnishment. If disposable earnings are more than $154.50
but less than $206.00 ($5.15 X 40), the amount above $154.50
can be garnished. A maximum of 25 percent can be garnished,
if disposable income earnings are $206.00 or more. When pay
periods cover more than one week, multiples of the weekly
restrictions must be used to calculate the maximum amounts
that may be garnished. The table and examples at the end of
this fact sheet illustrate these amounts.
What about child support and alimony?
Specific restrictions apply to court orders for child support
or alimony. The garnishment law allows up to 50 percent of
a worker's disposable earnings to be garnished for these purposes
if the worker is supporting another spouse or child, or up
to 60 percent if the worker is not. An additional 5 percent
may be garnished for support payments more than l2 weeks in
Are there any exceptions to the law?
The wage garnishment law specifies that the garnishment restrictions
do not apply to certain bankruptcy court orders, or to debts
due for federal or state taxes.
If a state wage garnishment law differs from the CCPA, the
law resulting in the smaller garnishment must be observed.
What about non-tax debts owed Federal Agencies?
The Debt Collection Improvement Act authorizes federal agencies
or collection agencies under contract with them to garnish
up to 15% of disposable earnings to repay defaulted debts
owed the U.S. government. The Higher Education Act authorizes
the Department of Education's guaranty agencies to garnish
up to 10% of disposable earnings to repay defaulted federal
student loans. Such withholding is also subject to the provisions
of the federal wage garnishment law, but not state garnishment
laws. Unless the total of all garnishments exceeds 25% of
disposable earnings, questions regarding such garnishments
should be referred to the agency initiating the withholding
EXAMPLES OF AMOUNTS SUBJECT TO GARNISHMENT BASED ON THE $5.15
AN HOUR MINIMUM WAGE
The following examples illustrate the statutory tests for
determining the amounts subject to garnishment.
1. An employee's gross earnings in a particular week are $235.00.
After deductions required by law, the disposable earnings
are $205.00. In this week $50.50 may be garnished, since only
the amount over $154.50 may be garnished where the disposable
earnings are $206.00 or less. The employee would be paid $154.50.
2. An employee's gross earnings in a particular workweek are
$240.00. After deductions required by law, the disposable
earnings are $210.00. In this week 25 percent of the disposable
earnings may be garnished. ($210.00 X 25% = $52.50) The employee
would be paid $157.50.
3. A garnishment order is received after the second work day
of the week. It requires a garnishment based on wages earned
up to that day be withheld. The employee is paid $60.00 a
day. Since less than $154.50 has been earned, no garnishment
is permitted. However, if another garnishment is received
when the workweek is complete, or in states where continuing
garnishments are issued, the employer will withhold on the
basis of the earnings for the entire week.
4. An employee paid every other week has disposable earnings
of $400.00 for the first week and $40.00 for the second week
of the pay period, for a total of $440.00. In a biweekly pay
period, when disposable earnings are above $412.00 for the
pay period 25% may be garnished. It does not matter that the
disposable earnings in the second week are less than $154.50
- 25% of the $440.00 ($110.00) is subject to garnishment.
5. An employee on a $320.00 weekly draw against commissions
has disposable earnings each week of $285.00. Commissions,
paid monthly, total $2,000.00 for July after deductions required
by law. Each draw and the balance due at the monthly settlement
are separately subject to the law's restrictions. Thus, 25%
($71.25 in this example) of each draw may be garnished. At
the end of the month, the $1,140.00 previously drawn is subtracted
from the $2,000.00 settlement figure, and 25% of the balance
may be garnished. In this example, the garnishable amount
6. Pursuant to a garnishment order (with priority) for child
support an employer withholds $90.00 a week from the wages
of an employee who has disposable earnings of $240.00 a week.
A garnishment order for the collection of a defaulted student
loan is also served. The limit for normal garnishments of
25% applies to the debt for the outstanding student loan.
Under the formula for normal garnishments, a maximum of $60.00
(25% of $240.00) is garnishable. The $90.00 support payments
may be withheld, because the normal restrictions do not apply
to court orders for support. No withholding for the defaulted
student loan may be made, because the amount already withheld
is more than the amount that may be withheld for normal garnishments.
Additional withholdings could be made to collect support,
delinquent federal or state taxes and certain bankruptcy court
MAXIMUM GARNISHMENT OF DISPOSABLE EARNINGS UNDER NORMAL CIRCUMSTANCES*
FOR THE $5.15 MINIMUM WAGEWeekly Biweekly Semimonthly Monthly
$154.50 or less: NONE $309.00 or less: NONE $334.75 or less:
NONE $669.50 or less: NONE
More than $154.50 but less than $206.00: Amount ABOVE $154.50
More than $309.00 but less than $412.00: Amount ABOVE $309.00
More than $334.75 but less than $446.33: Amount ABOVE $334.75
More than $669.50 but less than $892.67: Amount ABOVE $669.50
$206.00 or more: MAXIMUM 25% $412.00 or more: MAXIMUM 25%
$446.33 or more: MAXIMUM 25% $892.67 or more: MAXIMUM 25%
* These restrictions do not apply to garnishments for child
and/or spousal support, bankruptcy, or actions to recover
state or federal taxes.