Sarah Edwards | June 21, 2023
Edited by Hannah Locklear
Summary: A creditor can seize up to 25% of your weekly disposable earnings through wage garnishment in California. Luckily, there are ways to prevent wage garnishment, like debt settlement. If you can’t afford to settle, you may be able to file a claim of exemption to stop wage garnishment in California.
If you currently owe a debt in California, you may be worried about wage garnishment. A wage garnishment requires your employer to withhold a portion of your weekly earnings on behalf of your creditor. The garnishment continues until you fully satisfy the debt you owe.
Wage garnishment is pretty serious stuff. If your creditor is successful, it will take a significant chunk of your income away from you. That will make it difficult to pay for your daily needs, support your family, and afford a place to live.
Fortunately, creditors can’t garnish your wages in California without going through some legal hoops. They’ll need to successfully sue you in court and win a judgment before they can approach your employer. Without a judgment, they have no legal basis for the garnishment.
In this article, we’ll explain how you can stop wage garnishment in California and avoid it before it begins.
The federal government sets national wage garnishment laws, but every state retains the right to adopt different wage garnishment limitations. California offers some of the most lenient wage garnishment limitations of any state.
According to Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 706.050, creditors with a valid judgment against you can garnish the lesser of:
Your disposable earnings equal your wages after any required withholdings, including federal and state taxes. However, some deductions, such as medical and life insurance premiums, are not legally required. Thus, they are part of your disposable earnings.
Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 706.051 states that individuals who can prove they need money to support themselves and their families may receive a more extensive exemption or avoid wage garnishment altogether. The exemption amount they receive is up to the judge’s discretion.
Let’s consider an example of how wage garnishment works in Calfornia.
Example: Sheila owes Just A Bank $1,500 for an old credit card obligation. She ignores its phone calls and letters, and eventually, Just A Bank decides to sue her. Just A Bank wins its lawsuit and obtains a judgment against Sheila. It uses the judgment to start wage garnishment procedures. Sheila currently earns $800 weekly in disposable income from her job as a receptionist. Under California law, Just A Bank can garnish her wages for $90 weekly since [$800 - (40 x $15.50)] x 50% equals $90. It is the lesser amount since 25% of $800 is $200. However, if Sheila can prove that the garnishment makes it impossible to support herself or her family, a judge may waive it, and Sheila won’t lose any of her income.
Is a debt collector in California suing you for unpaid debt? Resolve the matter now with help from SoloSettle.
A creditor cannot garnish your wages unless it wins a lawsuit against you. Thus, protecting your income from wage garnishment starts by fighting your creditor’s legal claim.
When you receive a court Summons for a debt lawsuit, it will include a Complaint. Your creditor prepares the Complaint and lists crucial information pertinent to your debt, like the amount you owe, your account number, and the last time it communicated with you.
You’ll want to review the information in the Complaint for accuracy carefully. If you see any mistakes, make a note. You can include the errors as evidence against the lawsuit’s validity in your Answer.
An Answer is your formal response to the creditor’s claims against you. In your Answer, you’ll specify your defenses to the lawsuit and list any inaccuracies you find. You’ll want to draft an Answer even if you think you can resolve the case before your court date.
The Answer prevents your creditor from asking the judge to make a default judgment against you. Instead, with an Answer, the judge will review your defense and examine any evidence you provide before deciding. If you have a valid defense, they may dismiss your case.
Need help drafting an Answer? Watch the following video for steps on how to draft and file an Answer to your debt lawsuit in California:
If you don’t have an argument against your creditor, you have two options to avoid wage garnishment: repaying the debt or settling it.
Repaying the debt before your court date stops the legal process against you. Your creditor will no longer have a basis for the lawsuit, so it will drop it. Once the creditor receives your payment, it should report the debt paid in full to all three credit bureaus. You won’t have to worry about nasty, demanding letters or recurring phone calls from the creditor anymore.
However, you may not have a savings stash you can use to repay your debt. If that’s the case, debt settlement may be a viable alternative.
In a debt settlement, you offer the creditor a portion of the debt you owe in a lump-sum payment. You ask it to forgive the remaining balance and report the debt settled to the credit reporting bureaus.
If it agrees, the creditor will drop the lawsuit against you, and you won’t need to worry about wage garnishment. However, you’ll need to ensure your creditor receives your payment according to the terms of your settlement agreement.
Remember that creditors and collections agencies don’t have to accept settlement offers. They will only do so if they believe that it’s their best option and that the resources needed for a lawsuit and wage garnishment aren’t likely to yield better results. Thus, you’ll want to ensure you offer a decent settlement amount.
Usually, 60% of the debt’s value is enough to warrant consideration of your offer, but the creditor may ask for more money. If it does, try to have enough on hand to fulfill the request.
SoloSettle makes the debt settlement process easier. Our software helps you send and receive settlement offers until you reach an agreement with your creditor or debt collector. Then, SoloSettle helps you manage the agreement documentation and transfers your settlement payment for you, keeping your financial information private and protected.
To learn more about how to settle a debt in California, watch this video:
If, as a result of wage garnishment, you can’t afford to pay for your family’s basic needs, you can file a claim of exemption to stop wage garnishment in California. Note that you'll only get wages back from the time after you submit the claim, if granted. But if you act quickly, you can stop wage garnishment before it even starts.
Another way to stop wage garnishment in California is through filing bankruptcy. While bankruptcy should probably be your last option, it’s still a good way to get relief from debts you cannot afford to pay.
Many people fail to take action when they’re facing a debt lawsuit. They assume they don’t have any options and the creditor will win the case no matter what they do. That’s a mistake: You always have choices in a debt collection case. File your Answer and defend yourself. If you don’t have a viable defense, try to settle the claim before your court date.
Need help settling your California debt? SoloSettle handles debt settlement for you — try it today!
SoloSuit makes it easy to fight debt collectors.
You can use SoloSuit to respond to a debt lawsuit, to send letters to collectors, and even to settle a debt.
SoloSuit's Answer service is a step-by-step web-app that asks you all the necessary questions to complete your Answer. Upon completion, we'll have an attorney review your document and we'll file it for you.
Here's a list of guides for other states.
Being sued by a different debt collector? Were making guides on how to beat each one.
You can ask your questions on the SoloSuit forum and the community will help you out. Whether you need help now are are just look for support, we're here for you.
Is your credit card company suing you? Learn how you can beat each one.
Need more info on statutes of limitations? Read our 50-state guide.
Need help managing your finances? Check out these resources.
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