By John Lee

Virginia has some of the most pro-creditor laws in the nation.

In Virginia, your creditor may garnish your paycheck, garnish your bank account, place liens on your property and serve you with a Summons to Answer Interrogatories. Of these creditor remedies, the wage garnishment is the most effective against debtors. Virginia law allows a creditor to take 25% of your wages every paycheck. Most people can not survive with 25% of their wages being deducted from their paycheck. If you have a large judgment against you, the wage garnishment could last for many years.

Garnished paychecks and bankruptcy…

One of the most common reasons for bankruptcy is that the debtor is having his paycheck garnished and can not afford to pay his monthly living expenses. In most cases, bankruptcy is the only way to stop the garnishment. Sometimes the creditor may garnish a form of income (like Social Security Benefits) that is exempt and not permitted by law to be garnished. For example if a creditor garnishes your social security money, then you can go to court, prove it was Social Security Benefits and the Court will require the creditor to return it to you. Even if you get your Social Security Benefits back under this scenario, it may have taken you several months to retrieve your garnished Social Security Benefits. This causes problems because most people that live on social security can not afford to go months without their benefits while waiting for a court date to get back their benefits. Often times, a debtor, even if Judgment Proof; will file bankruptcy so they don’t have to worry about a creditor holding their exempt funds until they can prove they were exempt in Court.

Some of the worst garnishments come from student loan debt.

Many students in America grossly overpay for an education that does not create job opportunities upon graduation. Upon graduation they can’t find a job and therefore start getting behind on their student loan obligations. Once the deferments and special programs stop, the garnishments begin. I have seen graduates with nearly Two Hundred Thousand Dollars in student loan garnishments. Of course the student loan companies have some of the best lobbyists in the world because a student loan debt not dischargeable in bankruptcy and they don’t even have to go to court to obtain a garnishment. While most creditors have to at least prove their case in front of a Judge, a student loan company can simply write a letter to your employer to seize your wages.

When can creditors start wage garnishments on residents in Hampton Roads?

Most creditors can not garnish your wages until after they have obtained a judgment against you. In most cases, Student Loan debts and governmental agencies (like the IRS) do not have to obtain a judgment prior to garnishing. Once a creditor has obtained a judgment against you, depending on which court he obtained the judgment, he may collect on that judgment for up to 20 years and can then renew the judgment for up to another 20 years. After the creditor obtains the Judgment against you he has a very long time to garnish your wages. I have seen creditors wait many years before even starting the first wage garnishment. The creditor starts the garnishment process by filing a Garnishment Summons in General District Court. The garnishment summons is served on you and your employer; then your employer immediately begins taking the money from your paycheck. There is no garnishment hearing prior to the money is taken, normally the hearing is scheduled for about three months after the employer starts withholding wages.

How can garnishments be stopped?

Fortunately, garnishments can almost always be eliminated by filing a bankruptcy. Once a bankruptcy is filed the creditor must comply with the automatic stay and stop all collection activity including garnishments. In many cases, an attorney can even retrieve the funds that had been garnished.

Wage garnishments can cause a lot of stress and sleepless nights. They can cause a person to not be able to pay their rent, car payment or even buy groceries. The attorneys at John W. Lee, PC have helped thousands of people stop garnishments. We offer a free initial consultation with an attorney to help you determine if bankruptcy is right for you.

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