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“Garnishment” means that an asset is frozen. Garnishments come from a creditor—often from the creditor’s attorney, sometimes via the sheriff. The most common garnishments are garnishments of bank accounts or of wages. They work differently.

In a garnishment of a bank account, the creditor sends a notice to the bank, instructing the bank to freeze the money in the bank account, up to the amount of the debt. The bank looks at your account and ignores exempt deposits within the prior 60 days. In this context “exempt deposits” usually means Social Security, SSI, Veterans Administration payments, or other exempt assets, or state assistance such as Medical Assistance. After ignoring the exempt funds, the rest of the money is frozen; the bank then sends you a form that you have to fill out and return promptly to tell the bank that you can keep some or all of the frozen money. Typical reasons to be able to keep the frozen money are that the funds are wages of less than $380 per week, or that you receive government assistance based on need, such as fuel assistance, SNAP, or Medical Assistance. If you don’t fill out and return the form, along with 60 days of bank statements, you won’t get your money back. If you do fill out the form the creditor can object, in which case you can get a quick hearing in court.

In garnishment of wages, the creditor sends a notice to your employer. The notice instructs the employer to freeze either the amount of wages over $380 per week or one-fourth of your net wages (gross wages minus amounts required by law to be withheld). The freezing goes on for 90 days. As with bank accounts, if you get government assistance based on need, your wages cannot be garnished.

Although often the bank or employer will automatically send the frozen funds, technically they should wait until they get a second form, a “levy”.

If a bankruptcy is in order, and if you claim the federal exemptions, we can often get the garnished funds back.

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