Help about garnishment/judgement

On Saturday I received quite the surprise to find out that both my checking and savings accounts have been garnished. Okay, long story short, I owe a credit card company about $1,600; they’ve been trying to collect, I’d pay them for a while, then something would come up and overwhelm me. So yeah, I do owe the money. In October of 2004 they took me to court to get a judgement; I agreed to pay them $50 a month and did for a while, but then I was injured on the job (broke a bone in my foot and the other leg had an infection so I couldn’t get around very well for about two months - it was covered by worker’s comp), so was late with a couple of payments, so they demanded everything be paid at once. That was back in Feb.-March. Apparently, they took a garnishment order to my bank and the bank put it on my accounts.

My checking & saving accounts are solely there so that my paycheck can be direct deposited. That “asset” is, essentially, my paycheck and sole support. Naturally, I haven’t been able to talk to my bank about this, being that I didn’t discover it until yesterday (Saturday) afternoon, so I don’t really know the particulars. But can a garnishment take your entire paycheck like that by seizing your bank accounts? I thought that the garnishment could only be a part of your pay, that they weren’t supposed to take everything? Do you think my bank might be willing to loan me the money? To be honest, I didn’t think that they would or I would have approached them for a loan before now. :frowning:

Someone please help with my questions. And honestly, I’m feeling very upset and depressed right now, I don’t need anyone pointing out that I shouldn’t have let it get to this point. It’s at this point already. sigh

This should will answer your questions

What is a wage garnishment?

Did the garnishment take an amount equal to your paycheck or did it take an amount equal to the amount you owed? In other words, did the court order (garnishment) direct the bank to provide the amount of funds you owed after deducting the amount you are supposed to retain from your paycheck?

Isn’t this a “lien” against his bank account v. a “garnishment” against his paycheck or are they the same entity?

Find a bankruptcy lawyer.

I think what happened is that the bank accounts (they’re both with the same bank), as assets, were “frozen” for the amount owed the creditor. I haven’t talked with the bank yet so don’t know the full story; I suspect that I have to prove that what’s in the account is my paycheck, which shouldn’t be too hard to do (half my pay goes into checking, the other half into savings). What is so aggravating is that the garnishment/freeze can be put on without advance warning to me, so when I went to pay for something with my debit card, it was refused. I live paycheck-to-paycheck; I certainly don’t have a large amount of money stashed in either account–many times, by the weekend between paydays, I’m down to $50 or less in both. Guess I’ll find out tomorrow what is what. Thanks for the help; I don’t want to declare bankruptcy.

I notice that “get a lawyer” is the standard response on this Board to a legal problem. Well, if you can afford one, sure. But, here, the lawyer will cost as much as the amount in dispute and anyone worth retaining will want cash up front. On the other hand, I gather the Mods have a policy of not letting the Board be used for legal advice, and the forum description does after all refer to factual questions. My suggestion, if you can’t afford a lawyer and can’t clear up the matter with a few phone calls, would be to go to the legal self-help section of your local bookstore.

The other thing you can try, BTW, is the old friend-of-a-friend gambit. If you know someone who knows someone who practices in the field - whether representing creditors or debtors - that someone may be willing to give you a half hour to an hour (free) to explain at least what’s going on. To get someone actually to help with the problem, they’d generally have to be a friend, but I assume you don’t have one of those handy or you wouldn’t have posted here.

Here is an update, as of today (Monday) (and yes, I’m a terrible mess right now, am not really thinking very straight):

The bank says it’s a garnishment against the accounts, there is nothing they can do about it, it’s been ordered by the courts.

I did call the law firm that is handling it, but couldn’t talk to the lawyer himself. I did leave a message for him, explaining that the money that goes into both accounts is my salary, which is direct deposited. The persons answering the phones at the law firm, however, told me that since I hadn’t made the payments I had agreed to make, that it was too late now to make any new arrangement and that the garnishment would stand until they got the full amount. Which is about $1,560.

My immediate problem is that my salary is due to be deposited in the accounts on Friday morning. I don’t know what I’m going to do–if it does go in, the garnishment will take it all, according to the law firm and the bank. I don’t know if I can, at this time, switch the direct deposit to another account or what. I’m at the end of my rope. I don’t have the whole amount to pay them, nor do I have friends or family that would be willing to lend me that much–which I would have no way of paying -them- back.

If anyone can make any suggestions, please help. I’m not asking for legal help, just any kind of suggestions that might make sense without getting me in further trouble. I have a feeling that the lawyer isn’t going to call me back.

It’s my understanding (In NC anyway) that only Federal and State governments can garnish one’s wages. (Income tax, child support, etc.)
Am I correct?

Per the garnishment link I posted, if federal law limits the percentage of garnishment to 25% of your disposable income (see link) why are you being told they’re going to take it all?

Print the rules in the link out and take it to the bank. Tell the manager they’ll be in violation of federal and state law if they allow any more than 25% of your deposited paycheck (after deductions) go the satisfy the judgement. Tell them to talk with their legal dept if they have any questiions on this issue.

Here’s the Annotated Code of Maryland - Commercial Law Article
that discusses what a creditor can take. It sounds like you’re getting played if they propose to take it all.

Who’s your employer? I don’t know about the legality of this, or if I should even suggest it, but I bet if you asked your employer would cut you a manual cheque rather then letting it go DD. Then, if you were to pay 25% of it to whomever it’s owed (minus the appropriate deductions), I think you would be in the clear.

I know my employer would do this - I don’t know if yours would, but you could inquire.

Before you print out anything and look like a fool, lets get some facts straight. What you went through was not a wage garnishment. You went through an asset seizure. They are 2 different animals. A wage garnishment is deducted right from you paycheck by your empoyer and you most likely would have been notified just prior to the first affected check. An asset siezure is commonly confused with a garnishment because the legal document to enact both is called a writ of garnishment. That document allows for a variety of methods of obtaining moneys owed.

You made it easy to for the lawyer take your bank account by with your sporadic payment history. Once your account info and payment history has been documented, siezing your bank account was a piece of cake for the lawyer. Unless you can provide proof that some or all of income may be exempt from siezure, the bank will have no problem taking more. And legally the bank cannot prevent the siezure, they could themselves become responsible for the debt by ignoring a court order. And unless you get a judge to force the creditor to return the funds, you will not see any of it again. It would cost more than you owe to get a lawyer to even consider taking your case.

A couple of other points. Forget about a bankruptcy lawyer, $1600 is a piddly amount to consider filing and it won’t get any money. And Jake is correct, North Carolina does not allow for wage garnishment from paychecks, that is why you bank account was siezed. And not to sound like a dick but you have had more than enough chances to make things right and like many folks, chose to ignore them hoping they would go away. If there is anything that can be done, go to the Free Advice forums and in the debt collection forum, ring a friend called Ladynred. She is extremely knowledgable in dealing with debt collections and such, she may have an answer for your dilemma.

By the way, if you have outstanding judgements against you which you cannot afford to pay, you shouldn’t be keeping any substantial amount of money in a checking or savings account.
You can withdraw the money in traveler’s cheques or cashier’s checks/money orders made payable to yourself, and just turn those into cash periodically.
If I were in your shoes, I’d just change my direct deposit into my wife’s checking account, which I am not a co-signer on. I’d then just have her make a withdrawal in traveller’s cheques as soon as my paycheck cleared.

Tarragon, email me. It’s in my profile.

Thank you for the link to the Free Advice forums, racer72. I did post a question there. I’m not in North Carolina, btw, but Maryland; the creditor’s law firm is headquartered in Atlanta, but has an office in northern VA. When my accouns were frozen/garnished, there was about $180 between the two accounts (and one check outstanding, unfortunately! ARGH!). I would be more than willing to do an allotment from my pay direct to the law firm, but they won’t do that, apparently. I’m waiting to see what answers I get over on the free advice forums. Thanks again for pointing me to them.

You may want to bake your payroll department some cookies to make sure that direct deposit gets disabled by payday. :slight_smile:

(disclaimer: for all I know, there could be some technical reason that disabling direct deposit in order to avoid seizure would be illegal. If so, I’m not advocating it. I’m just saying that if you find that disabling direct deposit is the appropriate action, and want to make sure it gets done before payday, I have personally found cookies to be a decent lubricant for the payroll machinery. :D)

Maybe your link might help, if we’re talking about a wage garnishment. But we’re not. So your link is useless.

This is getting old. If you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about, don’t answer legal questions in GQ. You’re hurting, rather than helping the OP.

tarragon, I wish I could help. But I can’t. I’m not licensed in your state, and this is far, far too specific of a situation for anyone to handle via a message board. The rules governing enforcement of judgments vary widely between states. This isn’t an area where I can even give an educated guess, based on a general understanding of common legal principles among the states. In some states, a set dollar amount is exempt from collection. In others, no such exemption applies. In others, you might have an exemption for work tools, or a plow, or a family bible. Are you getting the picture?

I can’t say that everything that’s been said here is BS. Racer and maybe a couple others may very well be on the right track. I don’t know for sure, though, and neither does anyone else here. It’s not even clear what state the judgment is in, for example. And no one here knows enough to say whether bankrupty is a good idea. If this is your only debt, probably not. But no one here knows enough about your situation to say for sure, even if you were to list all your assets and liabilities for us.

Again, I wish I could help you more. But the only help I can give you is to warn you against message board advice. Sorry if I seem blunt. But I’m giving you the best advice I can. You need to speak to a lawyer in the appropriate state, which is either the state where the case which resulted in the judgment took place, or the state where the bank account is (which I assume is your state of residence). If different, I’d start with the latter.

Usual disclaimer: IAAL, but not in your state. I’m not your lawyer, and you’re not my client. This isn’t reliable legal advice. See a lawyer licensed in your state for that.

Thanks for the pointers, Random; I am in contact with Legal Aid now so at least I will be able to get some answers (hopefully) from them. I do appreciate the assistance.