In most states, wage garnishment is a remedy available to creditors—a way for them to collect from debtors who do not voluntarily pay. In wage garnishment, a creditor has part of the debtor's wages or salary sent to the creditor to satisfy a legally or judicially recognized debt.
Not so in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania exempts all of a debtor's wages or salary from garnishment, other than those arising in domestic support cases (e.g. alimony or child support). Other money belonging to or owed to a debtor, which is in the hands of a third party (the "garnishee") could potentially be garnished, but not wages.
It is possible that under certain circumstances, a Pennsylvania debtor could have his or her wages garnished by a court in a different state, but (1) there would have to be a connection to that state; and (2) garnishment would be governed by that other state's laws.
Remember, 100% of wages and salary are exempt from creditors in Pennsylvania. In terms of other sources or types of funds, broad exemptions available under federal or Pennsylvania law. For example, under federal law, Social Security is exempt from garnishment except for child support, alimony, and a few debts owed the federal government, like taxes.
Below are the exemptions which Pennsylvania has established for non-wage, non-salary forms of income.
Since Pennsylvania does not allow wages to garnished, 100% of wages or salary is exempt from garnishment. That is the same as saying the maximum amount of wages or salary which can be garnished is 0%.
Most other states either follow federal law or have maximum wage garnishment thresholds similar to those under federal law. In those states, the lesser of the following may be garnished:
"Disposable income" is defined in a way that makes most income disposable—only payroll exemptions required by law are considered in determining how much income is disposable. Therefore, in most other states, 25% of approximately 90% of a debtor's wages or salary could be garnished.
Most common consumer debts (such as those arising from open accounts or credit cards, or under some contract or agreement) must be sued upon in Pennsylvania with 4 years of the event (such as default or breach of contract) giving rise to liability.
Foreign judgments, which means judgments issued by a non-Pennsylvania court, must be enforced within 4 years, too. A judgment of a Pennsylvania court must be enforced within 5 years.
Remember: the fact that Pennsylvania does not allow wages or salary to be garnished does not make a Pennsylvania debtor "judgment proof." For example, non-wage and non-salary sources of income (though subject to the specific exemptions discussed previously) could be garnished; property could be executed upon (i.e. sold for the creditor's benefit); or a lien placed on real property. Pennsylvania debtors need to remember that though deprived of one potent tool, creditors still have other mechanisms available to them to enforce a monetary judgment.
There are no wage garnishment writs in Pennsylvania, though as noted above, there are other ways a creditor can seek to satisfy a judgment or collect on a debt. What all of these post-judgment remedies have in common is that they are based on a previously litigated judgment—the creditor takes the judgment to court and asks for one or another remedy. The exact mechanism will vary by the remedy the creditor pursues, but the critical point is that any type of garnishment, execution, lien, etc. is usually best challenged on procedural, not substantive (or merit-based) grounds. This is because the debtor has already presumptively had his or her chance to challenge the validity of the underlying debt, during the litigation that resulted in the judgment. More on Stopping Wage Garnishment in Pennsylvania.
When faced with any action to enforce a judgment, seek legal assistance. As noted, the main ways to challenge enforcement actions tend to be procedural in one way or another: e.g. showing that the judgment was issued improperly, or the creditor is not following the process for the enforcement mechanism, or the property or income the creditor is targeting is exempt or protected in some way. Since procedural challenges are so important, having an attorney helping you—someone who is comfortable with legal procedure—is vital.
For more information:
FAQ sheet about Federal garnishment rules[http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs30.pdf]
Social security and garnishment[http://www.ssa.gov/deposit/DDFAQ898.htm]