With the economy the way it is today, many people are relying more and more on credit cards to pay for necessary things. Additionally, for many individuals, student loans and their interest rates can be a heavy burden, especially in a challenging job market. It’s very easy to build up a mountain of debt. If there’s an emergency expenditure or unforeseen layoffs in the workplace, an individual can easily fall behind on bills.

Of course, the best way to handle this situation is for the person to contact their creditors and make payment arrangements. But some people forget, or have other priorities they focus on first. They may be so overwhelmed with debts that they simply cannot deal with another one. In such cases, the debt usually goes to a collection agency. An individual can work with them to pay a certain amount each month until they are clear, but if the debt remains unpaid, creditors may go to court and request income withholding, otherwise known as wage garnishing.

The Garnishment Process

First, a creditor or collection agency typically sends the debtor a letter notifying them that if they do not pay the debt, the agency will be filing a lawsuit. In court, the creditor or agency provides evidence of the debt and attempts to collect. If the judge orders garnishment, the subject of garnishment will be notified through a wage deduction notice. The court order is presented to the debtor’s employer, and a certain amount will be withheld from the debtor’s wages until the debt is paid. Garnishment is most often used in cases where the debtor has a steady job and is paid more than minimum wage. The court may also order the debtor’s car to be repossessed and sold.

The state of Illinois allows wage garnishing for child support, alimony, federal taxes and student loans. There are complex laws as to what kinds of wages and other income may be garnished and how much. For child support and alimony back payments, the amount allowed to be garnished is likely to be higher. A bank account can be frozen and money garnished from it if the debtor is unemployed. Retirement funds cannot be garnished. Social Security benefits can be garnished for child support, but for no other debt. In Illinois, payday lenders and check cashing services are allowed to garnish wages through a practice called voluntary wage assignment.

Avoiding Garnishment and Debt Help

The best way to avoid garnishing is not to let debts get that far out of hand. Someone facing severe debt problems should contact creditors if in trouble, and make at least partial payment arrangements, if possible. This demonstrates good faith on a debtor’s part. If someone is over their head in debt, they can also look into reputable credit counseling agencies and/or debt consolidation options.

If a debtor cannot afford to make sufficient payment arrangements to satisfy creditors, it may be a good idea to contact an attorney. They may be aware of more options and also have more leverage for negotiations, should they be necessary. If, when faced with no other options, an individual decides to file for bankruptcy, garnishment and other legal action is typically stopped. However, bankruptcy has consequences of its own. An attorney who specializes in these matters may be in the best position to advise with respect to a debtor’s legal options.