Iowa Garnishment Laws


Do you want to understand Iowa garnishment laws? Reach out to Henkels & Baker PC today. We can explain the laws to you in simple terms.

What Are Iowa Garnishment Laws?

Wage garnishment refers to the portion of your wages your employer can legally withhold to repay debts. Wage garnishment is one tool that creditors can use in their debt collection efforts. In Iowa, the state wage garnishment laws apply to you and your creditors. Some federal laws and regulations, like the federal minimum wage law, also apply.

Federal and Iowa law place limits on the amount that certain creditors can garnish in a single week, capping it at the lower of 25% of your net wages after deductions or 30 times the federal minimum wage. For consumer debts, it is the lower of 25% of your disposable income or 40 times the federal minimum wage. However, exceptions may allow some creditors to garnish more.

Understanding Iowa’s wage garnishment laws can be complicated due to the variables and exceptions involved. Whether you have unpaid taxes, defaulted student loans, or consumer debt, the consequences can threaten your financial stability. This article provides a breakdown of the Iowa wage garnishment laws, covering general guidelines and potential avenues for reduction.

At Henkels & Baker, PC, we pride ourselves on a transparent, client-centered approach. We keep you well-informed and supported throughout the process, whether you require guidance on protecting your wages or understanding job termination restrictions.

Federal Wage Garnishment Laws

The Consumer Credit Protection Act (CCPA), the federal wage garnishment law, establishes a maximum threshold for creditors to garnish disposable earnings. Disposable earnings are the net income after deductions, such as taxes and Social Security. In Iowa, adherence to these federal regulations governs how much a paycheck can be garnished. 

Title III of the CCPA limits the amount of an individual’s earnings that can be garnished and protects employees from termination if their pay is garnished for a single debt. In a typical work week, creditors can only garnish the lesser of two options:

  • 25% of your weekly disposable earnings or

  • The excess of 30 times the federal minimum wage

How Do Iowa’s Garnishment Laws Work?

In Iowa, a creditor may obtain a court order or judgment for the debt owed to initiate garnishment. There are several reasons a court may order garnishment of a defendant’s wages, including a money judgment, child support, student loans, or unpaid taxes.

As mentioned, Iowa’s wage garnishment process generally follows federal laws. However, it offers enhanced protection for your income in specific circumstances, as outlined in Chapter 642.

According to Iowa’s general wage garnishment law, creditors can garnish your disposable earnings. This garnishment is limited to either 25% of your weekly take-home pay or the amount by which your weekly earnings exceed 30 times the federal hourly minimum wage, whichever is lesser.

For consumer debts, creditors can garnish the lesser of 25% of your disposable income or the amount that exceeds 40 times the federal hourly minimum wage, according to Iowa Code § 537.5105. Consumer debt typically refers to debt incurred by an individual for personal, family, or household purposes like car loans or credit card debts.

Employer’s Responsibility on Receipt of a Wage Garnishment Order

In a wage garnishment, there are three parties: creditor, debtor, and garnishee. The garnishee is the party that possesses a debtor’s property (wages). Employers, then, are garnishees. As the garnishee, employers have specific responsibilities following a wage garnishment order.

These include:

  • Notice and response: The employer must complete and return a response within 21 days of service of the notice. They may also need to appear in court. Responding quickly is crucial to avoid potential court penalties.
  • Serve notice to employee-debtor: The employer should inform their employee of the garnishment.
  • Immediate garnishment: The notice of garnishment is immediately effective, so the employer should begin withholding the garnishment amount upon receiving notice.
  • Handling employee termination and garnishments: If an employee resigns or is terminated, the employer should promptly notify the court or government agency responsible for the garnishment order about the change in employment status. 

Garnishment orders are handled through the county sheriff’s office. The sheriff will serve the notice and can accept answers to the garnishment and payment of garnished funds.

Limits on Wage Garnishment in Iowa

Iowa’s Aggregate Amount Caps

There is a limit on the amount a creditor can collect from a debtor within a calendar year, and it varies by the debtor’s income.

The annual garnishment amount based on income bracket is as follows:

  • $0 to $11,999: $250

  • $12,000 to $15,999: $400

  • $16,000 to 23,999: $800

  • $24,000 to $34,999: $1,500

  • $35,000 to $49,999: $2,000

  • $50,000 and above: 10% of expected earnings

Limits on Garnishments for Child Support, Student Loans, and Unpaid Taxes

If you have unresolved child support, unpaid taxes, or outstanding student loans, your wages can be garnished by the government or a creditor without requiring a court judgment. Moreover, these garnishments are not subject to the limitations noted above.

Garnishment Limits for Unpaid Child Support

Child support court orders may have a provision for automatic income withholding. However, if the paying parent falls behind, the other parent can ask the court for a wage garnishment order. In Iowa, federal regulations apply to wage garnishment for child support. 

If you are financially responsible for a spouse or child not included in the order, a maximum of 50% of your disposable earnings can be garnished for child support. However, if you are not providing financial support to a spouse or child, up to 60% of your earnings can be withheld.

Moreover, if support payments have been outstanding for more than 12 weeks, an extra 5% can be garnished. Remember, Iowa’s maximum garnishment limits don’t apply to alimony or child support.

Garnishment Limits for Federal Student Loans in Default

If you fail to repay a federal student loan, the Department of Education or its authorized collectors can garnish your wages without obtaining a court judgment. This is known as an administrative garnishment.

By federal law, the Department of Education can take up to 15% of your disposable income, but you can protect up to 30 times the federal minimum wage.

Garnishment Limits for Back Taxes

The federal government can garnish your wages if you have outstanding federal taxes. The amount they can take from your paycheck is based on your deduction rate and the number of dependents you have. It is worth mentioning that besides the federal government, Iowa and your local government could also garnish your wages to recover back taxes.

How to Protect Your Wages From Garnishment

Certain types of income in Iowa are exempt from garnishment, including public benefits, Social Security, veteran’s benefits, child support, and alimony. If you receive such income, Iowa’s wage garnishment laws protect it, and you can prevent garnishment by filing an Affidavit of Property Exempt from Execution (Small Claims Form 3.21). 

Additionally, bankruptcy can halt all debt collection activities, including wage garnishments, through an automatic stay. If you file bankruptcy, an attorney can help you understand your options and the best option for your situation.

It is crucial to have legal representation during the wage garnishment process to safeguard your rights and ensure adherence to proper procedures. A skilled attorney can assist in negotiating with creditors to establish a repayment plan or explore alternative debt relief methods.

Legal Restrictions on Job Termination Due to Wage Garnishments

Wage garnishment orders can present a challenge to employers, and some may even consider termination instead of following these orders. However, state and federal laws offer protection in the event of a wage garnishment. 15 USC § 1674 provides that your employer cannot fire you if you have one wage garnishment. Additionally, Iowa Code § 642.21 states that your employer cannot terminate you solely because your earnings are subject to garnishment for debt.

Navigate Wage Garnishment With Henkels & Baker, PC

Understanding your rights and obligations under Iowa wage garnishment laws is crucial. Every detail matters, from the amount that can be garnished based on your income to the exemptions and protections provided by state and federal laws. 

The garnishment and bankruptcy lawyers at Henkels & Baker, PC, take pride in our compassionate approach. We ensure our clients are well informed at every step of the process, providing them with the necessary information and legal support to navigate debt relief. 

Contact us for a free consultation. We can explore your options and determine the appropriate course of action to secure your financial future.

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