PA Garnishment Law is the number one consumer topic at our law firm. If you are here, then you likely have been threatened with wage garnishment or bank account garnishment, issues which we do not take lightly. To help answer your questions and to hopefully put your mind at ease, we have compiled a list of Frequently Asked Questions about PA Garnishment Law below that will provide some useful information to you in your search for answers. Our office offers free, no obligation phone, Zoom or email consults for anyone in Pennsylvania with garnishment law questions.
Please keep in mind that in Pennsylvania a threat of wage garnishment may be a violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. If this has occurred then the collector may have actually done you a favor because you may now have a claim against that collector. If a collection agency has threatened to garnish your wages, please contact us immediately. The PA Garnishment Law FAQ’s are below:
- What is Garnishment?
- Can my Wages be Garnished?
- Can a Credit Card Company Garnish my Wages or Bank Account?
- Can my Bank Account be Garnished?
- Can I get Arrested if I do not pay a debt or a judgment?
- Can a Debt Collector threaten to garnish my wages in PA?
- What do I do if a Debt Collector does threaten to garnish my wages?
The formal definition of Garnishment is “the act of directing a business that is holding funds (such as a bank) or who is about to pay wages (such as an employer) to an individual who allegedly owes money to someone else to place a freeze on that money and distribute it to a creditor”. In other words, a Garnishment is where the creditor tries to take money that is owed to you, from someone else. Garnishing funds is also a warning to the party who is holding the funds (the Garnishee) not to pay them, and to inform the Court as to how much money is being held. If the garnishee (such as a bank or employer) should mistakenly give the money to the individual who is the account owner or employee, the Garnishee will be liable to pay the creditor what it had coming, up to the amount of the funds that were held by the Garnishee. Garnishing wages is a typical means used to collect late child support and alimony payments in Pennsylvania.
Only under very limited circumstances does Pennsylvania law permit the garnishment of wages. Garnishment of wages is a seizure of wages while they are still in the control of the employer, and have not yet been paid out to the employee. An employee’s wages, salaries and commissions may be taken from an employer through appropriate legal procedures to satisfy these kinds of debts:
- judgments for child or spousal support
- obligations relating to final divorce distribution
- PHEAA or Federal student loans
- back rent on a residential lease
- as restitution for criminal matters
- for certain types of taxes
- to satisfy a legal out of state civil judgment
Your wages cannot be garnished for any other purpose. Garnishment of wages can only be accomplished by a court order directed to the employer and no such court order can be issued without fair notice to the debtor/wage earner. Other than the kinds of debt listed above, no other debt or legal obligation can give rise to wage attachment in Pennsylvania. Federal laws such as IRS garnishment procedures may be used to garnish wages of Pennsylvania residents, but only through the federal court system.
As per PA Garnishment Law, a credit card company cannot garnish your wages in Pennsylvania if you live and work in PA and if the lawsuit was also filed in PA. Under Pennsylvania law, the garnishment of wages can only occur in limited circumstances and a Credit Card Company does not meet the criteria in most cases. In fact, such a threat is illegal as it is a violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. We can sue the debt collector if they have made such a threat against you. There is an exception to this rule, namely, if a judgment is obtained against you in another state and it is lawfully transferred to Pennsylvania, then you can be subject to wage garnishment.
On the other hand, a Credit Card Company or collection agency can garnish your bank account, including wages that are deposited there, IF they first obtain a judgment against you in a Court of Law. Garnishing a bank account and garnishing wages are two very different things.
While your wages may be safe, your bank accounts are not nearly as protected. If any legal judgment has been entered against you, the holder of that judgment can garnish money in your bank accounts by obtaining a court order against your bank. But for a few minor exceptions such as the statutory exemptions and payments received from Social Security, the entirety of all of your bank accounts may be subject to garnishment by a creditor who has entered a judgment against you. This applies to wages as well, once they have been paid to you, as they become vulnerable to garnishment once they are deposited into your personal checking account. An important distinction, however, is that a company cannot garnish a spousal joint bank account unless they obtain a judgment against BOTH spouses (very rare in credit card cases). Remember, in order for there to be a garnishment, there must first be a lawsuit and then a judgment entered against you.
For the most part, NO. There are no debtor’s prisons in the United States. If the judgment against you or the debt that you owe is Civil in nature, (like a credit card debt) you will not get arrested for mere failure to pay that judgment or debt. On the other hand, if you should be found in Contempt of Court by a Judge, for reasons related to the judgment or debt, that Judge could send you to jail under limited circumstances. Contempt of Court would be a rare but very serious instance where you’ve repeatedly rejected or ignored a Judge’s direct order. We simply don’t encounter that situation very often. If the judgment against you is related to spousal support or child support, failure to pay could result in jail time. You should contact a lawyer in that instance.
A debt collector cannot threaten to garnish wages in PA unless it actually has the right/possibility to do so. A credit card company or a collection agency would not typically have this right under PA law. If a debt collector does threaten to garnish your wages, you may be eligible to file a lawsuit against them under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). If this has happened, please contact our office immediately. Please know that there is no up-front attorney fee if we file a claim under the FDCPA for you as we are able to force the offending collection agency to pay our fees. You may be entitled to up to $1000 in statutory damages plus legal fees.
First and foremost, get the debt collector’s contact information. Name, phone number, address and the name of the company that they work for. Note the time and date. Then, contact our office for a free, no obligation consultation. If we take on a case against a debt collector because of a wage garnishment threat, there is no out of pocket cost to you and you will be entitled to up to $1000 in statutory damages plus legal fees. These claims usually require little effort on your part as we strive to make the whole process as efficient and painless as possible.
Garnishment Law is a very serious issue at our firm. This is a common but illegal threat that occurs on these debt collection cases. If you have a junk debt buyer, a collection agency or credit card company attempting to collect a debt from you by means of a threat of garnishment, please contact our office immediately at 412-348-8600 or send an email to Attorney Greg Artim