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Can Debt Collectors Garnish Your Wages?

written by: Stephanie Mojica•edited by: Donna Cosmato•updated: 5/18/2010

Can your wages be garnished for debt? Yes, it is indeed possible to have your wages garnished on any debt. However, a court process must first happen before a creditor has the ability to garnish your wages.

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    A common question many in debt have is, can debt collectors garnish wages? The answer to this question is yes. However, this cannot happen without a legal process. If you are overwhelmed with credit card debt, you may wish to consider options such as debt consolidation or debt counseling to avoid the consequences of a successful lawsuit against you.

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    How it Works

    Any creditor can legally sue you for failure to pay the bills on time. This is because you have a legal contract and obligation to repay the debt as agreed, and failure to do so is a violation of civil law. Honestly incurring and not repaying a debt cannot lead to criminal consequences, however.

    You would be served with a summons if your credit card company or bank wishes to sue you in court. If you do not appear as requested, the creditor will automatically win the lawsuit against you. If you do appear, you may be able to work the situation out with the creditor and the judge.

    Once a judgment is entered against you, it lands on your credit record as a serious public record entry. The judge can order your assets or salary garnished to repay the debt claim and lawsuit. Judgments usually include legal fees, interest, court costs, and other penalties.

    If you are not working, the creditor will not be able to pursue garnishment of your wages. However, an unpaid judgment can be indefinitely renewed in most states and thus will remain on your credit report. Once a judgment is paid, it should fall off your credit files after 7 years.

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    Avoiding Lawsuits

    The best way to avoid losing wages by legal force through judgments and wage garnishment is to pay bills in a timely manner. When this is impossible, staying in touch with your creditors can go a long way toward avoiding legal action. Creditors try lawsuits as a last resort because they can be costly and cannot guarantee repayment, especially if the debtor has no job or assets. So while the answer to the question, "Can you garnish on an unsecured debt?" is yes, more often than not it can be avoided.