American legal process for collecting a monetary judgment directly from a debtor's wages or assets
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- Though some protections exist for people struggling financially during the COVID-19 pandemic, thanks to the CARES Act stimulus package signed into law on March 27, they largely ignore those who were already on the edge of financial ruin. The CARES Act has paused federal student loan debt payments and payments on federally-backed mortgages, and various cities and states have suspended evictions. But few states have stopped creditors from moving ahead with wage garnishments, repossessions, and attachments (one-time seizures of bank accounts). This means that in many cases, the pandemic will tip people [...] into an economic abyss from which it will be difficult or impossible to recover. Even the one-time $1,200 stimulus payments promised to millions in the U.S. can be garnished by financial institutions in many states.
- Garnishments can occur after a creditor obtains a court judgement against someone who owes them money. Some people are not aware of the court hearings, often because they have not been informed by the creditor and don’t show up to argue their cases. [...] But once a court gives the go-ahead, creditors are free to take a portion of a person's wages from their paycheck. A separate order allows them to seize money from an individual's bank account. Federal law requires that debtors are left with at least $217.50 a week in take-home pay—for a family of four, that's less than half the federal poverty level. Some states protect more income from creditors, but creditors aren't limited to targeting money. They are free to seize cars, even if a debtor needs a vehicle to get to work to earn the money to pay off their debts.
- About one-third of Americans have debts in collection, according to the National Consumer Law Center. Total household debt reached an all-time high in the last quarter of 2019, at $14.5 trillion, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Unemployment checks are supposed to be protected from creditors, but even they are at risk of seizure once they are deposited into bank accounts. To protect their benefits, debtors must file a court motion, which is challenging in scores of jurisdictions where the coronavirus has closed most courts. People who do succeed in filing motions are being told they must wait weeks and sometimes months for their cases to be heard. In the meantime, the funds remain frozen.
- Garnishments are also coming from the U.S. Department of Education, even though Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced on March 25 that the department would halt collection actions and wage garnishments for 60 days beginning March 30.