The Head of Household Exemption in Wage Garnishment

State head of household exemptions offer greater protection in wage garnishment actions.

If a creditor is about to garnish your wages, you won’t lose everything. A good portion of your income is protected from wage garnishment by federal law. If you are the head of your household, state laws might protect even more.

Federal Wage Garnishment Limits

Under federal law, your creditor can only garnish the lower of:

  • 25% of your disposable earnings (gross pay minus taxes and mandatory deductions), or
  • your disposable earnings less 30 times the federal minimum wage

Some states provide even more protection. Find out more about how much a creditor can garnish your wages.

Head of Household Exemption and Garnishments

The head of household exemption is a state law that lets you protect more of your wages. It’s available to judgment debtors who are the primary source of financial support for the family. Although not all states have a head of household exemption, the states that do offer a wide range of exemption amounts. The amount of disposable income exempt for the head of household can range from 100% to 90%, or the amount necessary for the care and support of your family.

Claiming a Head of Household Exemption

Keep in mind that receiving the head of household exemption protection probably isn’t automatic. In most states, you’ll need to claim the exemption by filing paperwork with the court. You might also need to object to the garnishment. If you don't follow the procedures required by your state, the judgment creditor will likely get more of your wages than the creditor is entitled to receive by law.

As soon as you receive a wage garnishment notice or order, it’s essential to find out what you need to do to protect your income—especially if you have family members who rely on you. The response time will likely be short, and possibly a matter of days.

Carefully reading any paperwork given to you is an excellent place to start. It might explain your options or even include the forms you’ll need to respond. If not, local courts often have instructions posted on a website. Or you can try calling the sheriff or constable responsible for serving collection actions or the court clerk. Many courts also provide self-help services a few times per week. If you can’t find the information you need, consider consulting with a local attorney.

Learn how filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy will stop a wage garnishment.

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