The government has tools in place for ensuring people pay their debts. Rather than send people to antiquated debtors’ prisons, federal and state level governments have wage garnishment laws which are designed to forcibly take percentages of your income to repay debt in the event that you failed to do it on your own.
Missouri garnishment statute
Missouri law for wage garnishments defines a garnishor as the creditor to whom the money is owed, the debtor or garnishee as the person who owes money and the property subject to garnishment as anything other than money deposited into a bank account on a regular basis such as personal property, checks, bonds, credit, or other money.
Wage garnishment laws in Missouri
Wage garnishments in Missouri are sometimes referred to as wage withholding or wait attachment. Typically creditors can withhold or take up to 25% of your income directly from your paycheck to repay any outstanding debt.
When can creditors use wage garnishments in Missouri?
Creditors can instruct your employer to withhold a specific amount of your paycheck and forward the money directly to a sheriff or the creditor to pay off your debt. Federal law and state law determine specifically how much money can be taken.
But creditors can’t just knock on the door of your employer and demand that they take part of your paycheck. They need to get an official wage garnishment order from a judgment creditor.
Federal law does have limits on how much money can be taken. The purpose of this is to ensure that you still have some money to cover your living expenses. Missouri law follows the federal standard for wage garnishment limits unless you are a resident of Missouri and the head of your family, in which case state law copy becomes the rule.
For any given work week:
- creditors can garnish either 25% of your disposable earnings or, if you are the head of household, 10%
- the amount by which your income for the work week exceeds 30 times the federal minimum wage
Disposable earnings are referred to as whatever amount of money is left after your employer has deducted money for taxes and social security.
Example 1: John is not the head of his household and after subtracting social security and taxes, John makes $500 per week. Federal minimum wage is $7 per hour. 25% of the disposable earnings is $125. By contrast, 30 times the federal minimum wage of $7 per hour is $210, which leaves $290 for garnishment. John’s employer would be legally required to garnish the lesser of these two amounts which is the 25% or $120 per week.
Now let’s look at another example for someone who is the head of household in Missouri, to whom state laws on wage garnishment apply.
Example 2: Tina is single and she supports two children so she is the head of her household. Tina makes $1,000 per week after mandatory deductions and taxes. The current federal minimum wage is $7 per hour. 10% of Tina’s disposable earnings amounts to $100. Her disposable earnings minus 30 times the minimum wage ($210) would be $790. Tina’s employer could garnish her wages to the lesser of these two amounts which would be 10%.
Is a judgment always required?
There are a few exceptions to this rule. Your wages can be garnished without the organization to whom the debt is owed filing if you owe:
- Unpaid income taxes: The federal government can choose to deduct any back taxes from your current wages the amount of which is contingent upon your standard deduction rate and how many dependents you have. If you owe Missouri state taxes or local Missouri taxes, the local and state-level governments can also garnish your wages.
- Court ordered child support: Child support orders in every state including Missouri come with an automatic income withholding order. This is a federal law that limits how much money can be taken for garnishment but still stipulates up to 50% of disposable income can be used to pay child support.
- Defaulted student loans: the U.S. Department of Education can utilize what is called an administrative garnishment if you default on a federal student loan. They will typically garnish 15% of your disposable income.
Most of the time, any debts you owe will eventually expire, due to a statute of limitations, which means that the company has a certain amount of time to try and collect on that debt. This is even true of unpaid income taxes.
The IRS, for example, has up to 10 years to try and collect on an unpaid debt, which is why they will usually garnish wages if they can’t get repayment halfway through that time frame.
Student loans however are one of the few types of debt that never expire so if you have defaulted student loans, they can garnish your wages indefinitely until the loans are repaid.
How to garnish wages in Missouri
When a debt is owed, the law stipulates that there is a reasonable period of time for payments to be made and those payments should be made in accordance with whatever agreement the debtor had.
In the event that payments aren’t being made, Missouri rules allow the organizations or people to whom a debt is owed to use a continuous wage garnishment to get some of that money back.
This is effectively what happens when an individual has the money to repay a debt but they simply aren’t doing it, tantamount to the government having to force someone to pay their bills.
If you are an organization, individual, or business to whom money is owed, you can go to the court and ask that a court judgment be issued for the debts. This legal request will only be granted if the debtor has disposable earnings or employment which can be subject to a standard deduction rate. This standard deduction rate means that the governments will decide how much for what percentage of income the employer sets aside for repayment. This will typically not be granted in situations where someone has filed for bankruptcy.
How to stop wage garnishment in Missouri
If your wages are garnished, you will receive notification and your employer will receive notification. Federal law stipulates that your employer is not allowed to fire you for having one wage garnishment. So, if you owe one type of debt and your employer receives notification, they are legally required to follow through with the garnishment order and send the necessary money.
However, if you have multiple garnishment orders, federal law does not extend the same protection and you could be terminated from your job if your employer decides they don’t want to deal with the stress of adhering to your multiple garnishment orders.
If you are trying to submit a timely filed wage garnishment on behalf of your organization, or if you are an individual living on minimum wage and you need to stop or renegotiate the amount of your wage garnishment in Missouri, consider reaching out to a qualified attorney. A lawyer can evaluate your case and provide legal suggestions for what steps to take.