Friday, October 24, 2003

Can a Collections Company Garnish Wages in Pennsylvania?

If you owe someone money, he may resort to employing a collections company in an attempt to collect the debt. The creditor may also eventually file a lawsuit against you for the money owed. Once a judgment is entered against you by a court, many states allow the garnishment of your wages. Pennsylvania, however, only allows wage garnishment in a few limited circumstances.

What is Garnishment?

    Garnishment is a legal tool used by a creditor to satisfy a debt owed by you. Garnishment applies to both bank accounts and wages when applicable. When a wage garnishment order is in place, your employer will be notified of the order and must comply by holding money from your paycheck each pay period. Your wages will continue to be garnished until the court notifies your employer that the order is no longer in effect or the debt is satisfied.

Garnishment Procedure

    Before a creditor may garnish your wages, a court must enter a judgment against you. This is accomplished by the creditor filing a lawsuit against you in the appropriate court. You have the option to defend the lawsuit if you feel you do not owe the money. In some limited circumstances, such as for federal debts, a wage garnishment may be ordered without a preceding lawsuit and corresponding judgment.

When Can Wages Be Garnished?

    State laws vary widely with regard to what income or wages can be garnished. Pennsylvania only allows wage garnishment for a limited number of debts. Your Pennsylvania wages can be garnished for spousal or child support, as well as for any other divorce distribution obligation. Additionally, federal student loans and some taxes qualify for garnishment, as does criminal restitution and past due rent under a residential lease agreement. Other commercial debts cannot be the basis for a wage garnishment in Pennsylvania.

Collections Company and Wage Garnishment

    Typically, a collections company is employed to assist a creditor collect on a past due debt. Often, the collections agency becomes involved before filing a lawsuit; however, a collections company can also assist in collecting a post-judgment debt. The collections company itself cannot garnish your wages. If the debt is for one of the limited reasons for which wages can be garnished in Pennsylvania and the court has authorized a wage garnishment, then your wages will be garnished. The garnishment order, however, comes from the court, not a collections company.


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