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Posted by: National Bankruptcy Forum
Last updated Sept. 21, 2017.
Yes, Florida law does allow creditors to garnish your wages. However, a creditors’ right to garnishment, and the amount they’re entitled to garnish, hinges on whether you qualify as a “head of family” under Florida statute 222.11. The Florida statutes define a head of family as “any person who is providing more than one half of the support for a child or other dependent.”
This post will discuss what happens when you are paying for more than half the support of a child or other dependent, the garnishment rules in Florida if you aren’t head of family, what happens to money you’ve already deposited in the bank, and how filing for bankruptcy may help.
Florida Wage Garnishment Laws
If you qualify as head of family, the following wage garnishment laws apply to you in Florida:
All of your disposable earnings less than or equal to $750 a week are totally exempt from attachment or garnishment. So, if you’re a head of family and are making less than $750 per week, creditors can’t garnish your wages in Florida. What if you’re a head of family and you’re making more than $750 every week? It’s still difficult for creditors to get after your wages in the Sunshine state. Under section 222.11 of the Florida statutes:
Disposable earnings of a head of a family, which are greater than $750 a week, may not be attached or garnished unless such person has agreed otherwise in writing.
Don’t Sign the Waiver
When would you ever agree in writing to have your wages garnished? Most likely at the beginning of a credit relationship. Florida law contemplates permission to garnish as part of an initial contract negotiation and imposes the following requirements:
The agreement to waive the protection provided by this paragraph must:1. Be written in the same language as the contract or agreement to which the waiver relates;2. Be contained in a separate document attached to the contract or agreement; and3. Be in substantially the following form in at least 14-point type:IF YOU PROVIDE MORE THAN ONE-HALF OF THE SUPPORT FOR A CHILD OR OTHER DEPENDENT, ALL OR PART OF YOUR INCOME IS EXEMPT FROM GARNISHMENT UNDER FLORIDA LAW. YOU CAN WAIVE THIS PROTECTION ONLY BY SIGNING THIS DOCUMENT. BY SIGNING BELOW, YOU AGREE TO WAIVE THE PROTECTION FROM GARNISHMENT.
If you haven’t signed a waiver that meets the criteria listed in 222.11, and you qualify as a head of family under Florida law, your wages cannot be garnished.
If a head of family has signed a waiver that grants a creditor the right to garnish their wages, their paycheck can only be garnished on the amount they earn above $750 per week. Creditors can take 25% of what you make above the $750-per-week threshold.
Rules When Not Head of Family
If you’re not a head of family, Florida borrows its wage garnishment rules from federal law, specifically the Consumer Credit Protection Act. This law states that creditors cannot garnish more than 25% of your wages or the amount that exceeds 30 times the minimum wage, whichever is less.
Also be aware that Florida’s consent to wage garnishment rules mentioned above only apply to heads of family.
Is my money in the bank safe?
Florida wage garnishment laws protect money already deposited in the bank if it is traceable as income. For example, even if you don’t qualify as a head of family, you can exempt 75% of your net earnings that have been in the bank for 6 months provided that are identifiable and traceable.
It is important to note that co-mingling funds destroys the exemption. This is a tough hurdle for a lot of debtors who may not have the foresight to keep earned income separate from other funds.
Filing for Bankruptcy in Florida
It should be noted that filing for bankruptcy will put an immediate stop to wage garnishment and affords some debtors the opportunity to recoup funds that have been taken by garnishment.
Per our more extensive post on Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Florida, some highlights of filing include:
- An unlimited homestead exemption, which is among the best homestead exemptions in the country. This applies to homes that meet the length-of-ownership requirement and are no larger than half an acre in a municipality or 160 acres outside of a municipality.
- The aforementioned wage garnishment benefits; head-of-family debtors are fully exempt up to $750 per week (or more), both of paid and unpaid wages accrued in the last six months.
- Additionally, you can keep up to $1,000 equity in personal property, such as furniture, art, and electronics, or $4,000 equity in personal property if you’re not using the homestead exemption; up to $1,000 in equity of your vehicle — more if filing bankruptcy jointly with your spouse; and pensions and most retirement accounts, under federal non-bankruptcy exemptions.
To learn more about bankruptcy and how it may assist with stopping wage garnishment, make sure to contact an experienced Florida bankruptcy attorney. He or she should be able to advise you further on if bankruptcy is right for you.