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Stop Wage Garnishment in Illinois

Sarah Edwards | June 15, 2023

Sarah Edwards
Legal Expert
Sarah Edwards, BS

Sarah Harris is a professional researcher and writer specializing in legal content. An Emerson College alumna, she holds a Bachelor of Science in Communication from the prestigious Boston institution.

Edited by Hannah Locklear

Hannah Locklear
Editor at SoloSuit
Hannah Locklear, BA

Hannah Locklear is SoloSuit’s Marketing and Impact Manager. With an educational background in Linguistics, Spanish, and International Development from Brigham Young University, Hannah has also worked as a legal support specialist for several years.

Summary: An Illinois wage garnishment allows creditors to seize up to 15% of your weekly disposable earnings. Illinois law is friendlier to debtors than laws in other states that stipulate wage garnishment can be as high as 25% of the debtor's disposable earnings. That being said, you can stop wage garnishment before it even begins through debt settlement. SoloSettle makes settling your debt in Illinois easier. Otherwise, file a claim of exemption to stop wage garnishment in Illinois.

Financial problems are nothing to be ashamed of. Everyone has experienced the stress of sinking into debt or not having enough money to manage their bills. You'll likely feel anxious when it happens to you and wonder how to overcome a tricky situation.

Missing a few payments with a creditor can be an easy fix, but your problems will compound the longer you don’t pay your bills. Failing to communicate with your creditor or arrange a new payment plan can result in a debt lawsuit, with you named as the defendant.

If a creditor or collections agency decides to take legal action against you, it wants to win a judgment that it can use to garnish your wages. A judgment will stay in the public records for years, and wage garnishment can take a big bite out of your weekly income.

If you’re facing a debt lawsuit in Illinois, it’s critical to understand the ramifications that wage garnishment will have on your paycheck.

Avoid wage garnishment through debt settlement.

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Illinois isn’t as strict as other states when it comes to wage garnishment

An Illinois wage garnishment won’t take as much from your income as it will in other states. Under 740 ILCS 170/4, a wage garnishment must be the lesser of:

  • 15% of your disposable earnings.
  • The amount your disposable earnings exceed 45 times the Illinois minimum wage, which is currently $13 for most wage earners.

According to Illinois law, disposable earnings equal the net pay after any required deductions, like federal and state taxes. In addition, state law exempts all income from pensions and retirement funds, including Social Security retirement and disability payments, from wage garnishment.

Illinois law is friendlier to debtors than laws in other states that stipulate wage garnishment can be as high as 25% of the debtor's disposable earnings.

However, while you may pay less for wage garnishment than in other states, that doesn’t mean wage garnishment won’t impact your ability to pay for other things, like rent or groceries.

Let’s consider how an Illinois wage garnishment may impact a worker in a hypothetical example.

Example: George borrows $1,500 from La Bankola. He stops making payments on the loan during a rough patch and never attempts to resolve the issue with the bank. La Bankola decides to sue George, and it wins the lawsuit. The bank plans to use the judgment to garnish George’s wages. George currently takes home $1,000 weekly after taxes from his job as a carpenter. Under Illinois law, his employer must withhold $150 from each of George’s paychecks, or 15% of his disposable earnings. The $150 amount is the lesser of the two wage garnishment options since the alternative is $415, or $1,000 - (45 x $13). George’s employer will deduct $150 each week for ten weeks until he fully satisfies the debt.

In our example, George will pay $600 each month until he repays the entire loan. That will impact his ability to pay his other bills, which may worsen his financial situation.

Respond to your debt lawsuit to stop wage garnishment before it starts

If you’re finding it difficult to meet your bills, your first step is to contact your creditors. Explain if you’re going through something unexpected, like a medical issue that keeps you from working. Your creditors may give you a few months to get back on top of your finances or allow you to make smaller payments toward your obligation.

When you ignore creditors, they don’t go away. Instead, they’ll increase their efforts to collect their money. You’ll probably start receiving lots of phone calls and letters. If you don’t respond to these communication efforts, your creditor may sell your debt to a collection agency or sue you.

The next step of collections is typically a debt lawsuit. Creditors or collections agencies can sue you if they have the right to collect your obligation. You’ll receive a summons that includes your creditor’s Complaint. The Complaint will list the amount you owe and your court date.

It’s ill-advised to ignore a court summons. Instead, you’ll need to file an Answer in response to the lawsuit. An Answer establishes your defense for nonpayment of the debt. You’ll want to consider the different defenses available and select one that applies to your claim. However, you’ll want to ensure that your Answer is truthful.

Watch SoloSuit’s video to learn the six tips for drafting an Answer.

Avoid wage garnishment in Illinois through debt settlement

An Answer prevents the court from automatically granting a creditor or collections agency a default judgment against you. Instead, you’ll have the chance to defend yourself in court.

Once you’ve drafted an Answer, you’ll need to consider the options for resolving the obligation before your court date: You can either pay the debt in its entirety or try to arrange a settlement.

Repaying the debt stops any further collections and legal actions. The court will dismiss the case against you since there’s no longer anything to collect. You’ll want to make sure you get a receipt from the creditor so you have it in case any issues arise.

Another option is settling the debt. A debt settlement occurs when your creditor agrees to accept a portion of the obligation and releases you from the remaining claim. Many creditors will take a lesser amount in a one-time payment if the administrative burden of court and wage garnishment is high.

SoloSettle can help you settle your Illinois debt lawsuit now.

Watch the following video to learn more about debt settlement:

File a claim of exemption to stop wage garnishment in Illinois

If your wages are already being garnished because you lost your debt lawsuit due to a default judgment, you can still file an Emergency Motion to Claim Exemption in Illinois.

If granted, an Emergency Motion to Claim Exemption allows you access to the money in your bank account for an emergency purpose such as the need to pay for your basic necessities like food, rent/mortgage, utilities, etc. You do this by claiming that your money is exempt from garnishment.

Income that is exempt from garnishment in Illinois includes the following:

  • Social Security, SSI benefits, and disability
  • Pension and retirement benefits and refunds
  • Public assistance benefits
  • Child support
  • Unemployment compensation benefits
  • Workers' compensation benefits
  • Veterans' benefits
  • Circuit breaker property tax relief benefits
  • Any other source, up to $4,000 ("wildcard exemption")

For more information on how to file a claim of exemption and stop wage garnishment in Illinois, check out the following guide.

Don’t give in to wage garnishment

While a debt lawsuit can be scary, that doesn’t mean you can ignore it. Take action before your court date. File an Answer and try to repay the obligation or settle it.

Addressing the issue before it becomes too late will protect you from wage garnishment. Otherwise, you’ll see a significant chunk of your weekly income go toward paying off your obligation.

Use SoloSuit’s Debt Answer template to respond to your Illinois creditor’s Complaint.

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