Many people have asked us why their wages are being garnished with WAGE ATT 1 on their paychecks. Here we’ll answer your questions about why this may be happening, and what you can do about it.

Here’s one of the complaints we received:

Hello...I work for UPS. Last week was the first time I noticed a WAGE ATT 1 on my check stub in the deductions for $44.54. I went to my HR office and they're telling me it's going to take 24hrs to find who exactly is garnishing my wages.

My question is, can they do this without letting me know? I work part time, sometimes not even 20 hrs. I can't pay my rent and am barely paying my bills. What can I do to fight this?

What is WAGE ATT 1?

This is the description on your paycheck that indicates wage garnishment (also called “wage attachment”) for a debt. The 1 likely indicates that this is the first debt garnished from your paycheck. You will note that it does not list what debt is causing the wage garnishment. As you learned, your employer will have to let you know why your wages are being garnished.

The most common reasons for wages to be garnished are:

  • Child support or spousal support
  • Federal debts such as delinquent taxes, federal student loans or even an SBA loan
  • Delinquent consumer debts such as credit cards, auto loans etc.

Doesn’t my employer have to notify me first?

No. We explain in great detail in this article, Can I Get My Wages Garnished Without Notice? that employers do not have to notify you before your wages are garnished, and in fact if they don’t respond quickly to a wage garnishment order they may have to pay penalties. 

Before your wages can be garnished for a consumer debt (but not child or spousal support or a delinquent federal debt), you must be sued for the money you owe and the creditor must win the lawsuit. 

If you did not respond to the lawsuit and did not show up in court on the day of the hearing, the creditor (or debt collector) would have received a default judgment against you. Then the creditor would have been entitled to ask the court for permission to collect the amount of that judgment by garnishing your wages.

If you have no recollection of being served with information about a lawsuit against you, then it would be a good idea to at least consult with a consumer law attorney who helps people resolve their debt collection problems. This is because there are instances of companies deliberately ensuring that consumers are not properly notified of a lawsuit so that they can be assured of winning default judgments. However, this sort of behavior is illegal.

Learn how to find free and low-cost legal help for your debt problems here.

How Much Can They Take?

State laws may limit how much can be garnished. In addition, there is a federal law, Title III of the Consumer Credit Protection Act (CCPA) that protects a certain portion of your income from garnishment. Title III limits the amount of earnings that may be garnished in any workweek or pay period to the lesser of 25 percent of disposable earnings or the amount by which disposable earnings are greater than 30 times the Federal minimum hourly wage (currently $7.25 for a total of $217.50). This limit applies regardless of how many garnishment orders are applied.

How Long Does Wage Garnishment Last?

It will last until the debt is paid off. Keep in mind that there may be interest, penalties and/or court fees added to the amount you originally owed. That’s why you’ll want to make sure you can get as much information as possible about the garnishment.

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What Can I Do To Stop It?

First you’ll need to find out who is behind the wage garnishment. Ask your employer to give you a copy of the order they received to garnish your wages. 

If your employer can’t or won’t help, you may need to contact the court yourself or talk to a consumer law attorney who can look it up for you. (Debt collection lawsuits are usually filed in small claims court or state civil court, which may go by the name of county court, municipal court, or other names. Here is a link to look up state civil courts in your state.) 

Tip: We always recommend talking with a consumer lawyer, but if that does not work for your situation, you can learn how to do your own legal research and find out about your options for fighting back using this affordable online service.

If you do owe the debt, you can try to work out a settlement if you can come up with a lump sum payment, but if you don’t have a lot of money you may need to talk with a bankruptcy attorney to find out how bankruptcy may be able to help you stop wage garnishment. The bankruptcy attorney will be able to look up the garnishment for you as well. (It doesn’t hurt to at least talk with the attorney to learn about your options.) 

If your garnishment is due to back taxes, you’ll want to talk with an expert who can help you resolve those taxes. You can call the Debt Collection Hotline at 1-888-495-0133 x 3 for help with unpaid federal taxes

Also read: Can I Get My Wages Garnished Without Notice?

You can call the Debt Collection Hotline at 1-888-495-0133 to be referred to a bankruptcy attorney now.

More Questions From Readers

Here are some other complaints we’ve received about this problem:

“My husband works for UPS and had 600.00 dollars taken out of his payroll. The last time we can remember would be that we made arrangements with a college loan that will begin being taken out of our bank act. But we noticed this amount deducted from his paycheck. That's not right and how can we fight this?”

In that case we recommend talking with a consumer law attorney asap, and it would be a good idea to talk with one with experience in student loan law.

“My husband works for UPS. He gets his fourth check and in the dedication part they took out $108 leaving him with $72. He doesn't make enough as it is. I'm asking is this child support?”

It could be. The employer should be able to provide more information.

“I work for UPS and I am part-time as well.  I started noticing a lot of money has been taken from me. I don’t know why or how this is happening but I never went to court or never got anything in the mail saying why I am getting my wages garnished. I made $962 dollars and they took $300 plus dollars and this week I made $400 and they took $300 plus as well.”

You’ll need to try to get more information from your employer to determine why that money is being withheld from your paycheck. If it is for a debt other than child support, you may want to talk with a bankruptcy attorney to find out whether that is good option for putting this debt behind you.

“I had the same thing happen to me while working at UPS. Can I expect the same thing to happen if I change jobs?”

Unfortunately that may be the case. If whomever is garnishing your wages learns about your new employment they will likely try to garnish your wages there as well. That’s why you’ll want to try to get to the bottom of it if you can.

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