Putting Wage Garnishments in Perspective

Garnishing a debtor’s wages is called an “earnings garnishment” in Wisconsin. It’s one way a creditor has to collect what they’re owed on a judgment. But like many ways to collect, there are limits to what and how you can garnish.

The biggest limitation is on what you can garnish: at best, only 20% of an employee’s earnings can be garnished. If garnishment would bring the earnings below the poverty level, you’ll get even less. And if an employee is already earning below the poverty level, you can’t garnish at all.

Another limitation is time: Wisconsin limits garnishing to 13 week periods. Usually, only one creditor can garnish at a time. When the 13 weeks are up, you have to re-file (and pay the appropriate fees).

A final issue with earnings garnishments is that they involve a debtor’s employer (called the “garnishee”), which can complicate things. For example, you must send certain forms to both the debtor and the garnishee. Both of them can object to the garnishment, meaning you may end up back in court to decide who’s right.

It might seem like, with all of those limits, an earnings garnishment is never a good idea. Not true! The key to a successful earnings garnishment is to keep your expectations reasonable. Working with someone who understands the collections process, the likely costs you’ll incur and the likely amount you’ll receive from the garnishment.

Also, consider alternatives ways to collect: a garnishment may be your best option, especially if you’re having difficulty finding other property that the debtor owns. And if the debtor makes enough money, you may be able to get the judgment paid relatively quickly.

The collections process can be daunting. Understanding the pros and cons of your options can help you make the best decision on approaching it.

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