California’s wage garnishment law is designed to control the amount that a lender may take directly from your pay check in order to claim debt repayment. Essentially, what this means is that those who borrow money from various creditors are protected to an extent from having too high a proportion of their earnings reclaimed immediately for repayment of debt.

The wage garnishment limits (‘garnish’ meaning take) in California are similar to those found in similar federal laws. Generally, a debtor will not need to pay a creditor more than 25% of their wages this way (after deductions). As your wages get higher however, there are some cases where they will be able to take more than 25%.

What is Wage Garnishment?

A wage garnishment (also known as a wage attachment) is an order that gets sent from a court or government agency to your employer. This then tells the employer that they must withhold a certain amount from your paycheck which will be sent to them directly. This is one way for them to claim back debt from debtors that have been slow in paying it off.

So when does this come into effect? A creditor will not be able to get a wage garnishment order unless they obtain a court judgement in most cases. In order for this court judgement to be received, they must have a good ‘reason’ to go directly to your employer. Generally this is a ‘last resort’ so you needn’t worry about it happening the first time you miss a credit card payment. As you get further behind on credit cards or build up unpaid doctor’s bills, you may be at risk.

Likewise, in some cases a garnishment can be obtained without a court judgement being necessary. This is true for unpaid income tax, child support and student loans for instance.

Limitations on Wage Garnishment

Fortunately, as mentioned, limits are in place to prevent companies from taking too large a chunk of your income at source. In California this means that on any given work week a creditor can garnish the following (or less):

· 25% of your earnings
· Or the amount by which your weekly (after deductions) earnings exceed 40 times the hourly minimum wage for California

This later point means that in some cases you may have to pay more than the 25% but only if you are already earning a lot of money.

Note that for those with multiple debts, the total garnished can never exceed the total of 25%. So in other words, if you have two loans and both creditors are trying to reclaim money, they won’t be able to take 25% each – rather they will be able to take 12.5% each and so on.

This is different in case of student loans, child support and taxes. For child support, up to 60% of your earnings may be taken. For student loans the limit is 15%.

There are a number of other circumstances which may affect garnishment laws as they affect you, so make sure to do your own further research in each case.