When someone (a debtor) from Idaho owes someone else (a creditor) money as a result of a legal order (a judgment) and doesn’t pay, what can the person owed money do? One possibility is to garnish the debtor’s wages.
Wage garnishment is when part of a debtor’s wages or salary are sent to the creditor, to satisfy a judgment. Wage garnishment merely happens to be one of the best known and most common kinds of garnishment—any money owed or belonging to a debtor, which happens to be in the possession or control of a third party, can be garnished. Garnishment is available for any debt, including consumer debts, taxes, alimony and child support, promissory notes, debts from breach of contract, and debts resulting from any lawsuit.
A common misconception about garnishment is that a creditor can do this on its own. It can’t; before there can be garnishment, the creditor needs a legal determination—the judgment—that it is owed money, and to effectuate or carry out the garnishment, it needs another court order.
Idaho Garnishment Exemptions and Non-Exemptions
States can establish exemptions to garnishment, protecting certain types of income from being garnished. Idaho has been unusually protective of debtors, and has carved out a great number of exemptions for non-wage, non-salary sources of income:
- Social Security: under federal law, it can only be garnished for child support, alimony, federal taxes, and certain other debts to the federal government. However, Idaho goes further and completely exempts Social Security from garnishment.
- Pensions: not only are public employee, including police and firefighter, pensions protected as in most states, but all retirement benefits are protected from garnishment.
- Public assistance or benefits: almost every form of public assistance or benefit is protected from garnishment, including workers’ compensation; unemployment benefits, aid to families with dependent children; veteran’s benefits; general assistance; and aid to the blind, aged, and disabled. Note, however, that some of these forms of aid, such as worker’s compensation, are only protected up to the level the recipient needs for his or her own support; and some are subject to being garnished by a court order for the support of another (e.g. child support).
- Insurance benefits: many insurance benefits are also protected, including annuities (up to $1,250 per month); death or disability benefits; group life insurance benefits; life insurance if the policy specifies that it is exempt from garnishment for creditors; and medical, surgical, etc. benefits.
- Alimony or child support, up to the level needed for support.
In Idaho, if you are receiving some non-wage or non-salary income, there is a good chance it is exempt from garnishment
Idaho Maximum Threshold
Like a number of other states, Idaho follows federal law in terms of the maximum amount garnished. Even for non-exempt income, only a certain amount or percentage can be garnished. Under federal law, the lesser of the following may be garnished:
- A total of up to 25% of disposable income (across all debts and garnishments); or
- The amount by which a debtor’s weekly income exceeds 30 times the minimum wage
The purpose of the second criteria is to allow the debtor something to live on, by guaranteeing him or her at least earnings equivalent each week to working 30 hours at minimum wage.
The maximum amount which can be garnished is not based on gross income, but on “disposable income.” However, for garnishment purposes, disposable income is defined differently than it’s used in common parlance. To most people, “disposable income” is the remaining income after necessary expenses, including food, shelter, utilities, medical insurance or care, and transportation. For garnishment purposes, though, disposable income is ALL income left after legally required payroll deductions, like FICA. Since there are not that many deductions mandated by law—and even deductions required by an employer (such as for health insurance) or a union (like dues) are not considered, since they are not required by law—the vast majority of someone’s income will be considered “disposable income.”
In addition, under federal law, certain debts, such as child support and debts for taxes, allow more of the debtor’s income can be garnished. (Much more: potentially up to 50 % or more of a debtor’s income.)
Idaho Statute of Limitations
A statute of limitations is the time to sue or the time to enforce a judgment. Both types of statute are relevant to garnishment, since first the creditor must sue and win, then he, she, or it must enforce the judgment.
In Idaho, the most common limitations periods for consumer debts will be:
- Four years, for open accounts (credit cards) and oral/verbal contracts
- Five years, for written contracts
Once the creditor has a judgment, in Idaho, the creditor has essentially forever to seek garnishment. The statute of limitations for enforcing an Idaho judgment is 5 years, and for enforcing a judgment from a non-Idaho court is 6 years; however, the creditor may renew those periods of time, extending the time to enforce a judgment indefinitely.
Writ of Garnishment in Idaho
Garnishment is a tool for enforcing a judgment. That means it comes after the creditor has already won in court, and after the debtor has already had an opportunity to defend him- or herself. Therefore, while the debtor will get notice of the garnishment, in the majority of cases, the debtor’s own involvement in garnishment is minimal, the key issues involving the debtor having already been litigated.
The process of obtaining garnishment involves the creditor, armed with the judgment in its favor, applying in writing to the court for garnishment. This is fairly straightforward: the creditor states that money is due to it; the debtor has not yet paid; garnishment is believed necessary to satisfy the debt; and that a third party called the “garnishee” (e.g. the debtor’s employer) is believed to have money available and owed to the debtor (e.g. debtor’s salary or wages) which can be used for the debt.
The garnishee will then be required to verify that it owes money to the debtor. (If it does not, or if the amount which it is believed to owe is wrong, this is the time for the garnishee to present evidence or documentation correcting the matter.) Once it is established that the garnishee has debtor’s money and that the judgment against the debtor is valid, the garnishee will be ordered to turn over some portion of that money for creditor’s benefit. More on Stopping Wage Garnishment in Idaho.
Getting Legal Help
When faced with garnishment, a debtor or alleged debtor should seek legal help immediately. Even given that there has been prior litigation (when the judgment was rendered), there may be ways to challenge, or at least reduce, the garnishment. A few of the possibilities include:
- Was the judgment rendered incorrectly, such as by “default” when the only reason for default was that the debtor never received proper notice that it was being sued?
- Had the statute of limitations run out, for either the judgment or the garnishment?
- Is there some mistake—for example, has the wrong debtor been named, or had the debt already been paid, settled, or written off?
- Is the debtor’s disposable income lower than though, so that the amount of the garnishment has to be reduced? For example, are significant portions of the debtor’s income derived from exempted non-wage, non-salary sources, such as insurance proceeds, public benefits, or certain pensions?