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Stop Wage Garnishment in Hawaii

What is Wage Garnishment?

Wage garnishment is when a creditor gets a court order to take money directly from your paycheck to pay off a debt. It’s a legal way for them to collect what you owe – but it can seriously mess up your finances if you‘re not prepared.In Hawaii, creditors have to jump through some hoops before they can start garnishing your wages. They need a court judgment against you first. Then they file paperwork to get the garnishment order from the court. Your employer is legally required to comply and withhold part of your paycheck to pay back the debt.It’s a huge hassle, and it can make it really tough to get by financially when a chunk of your income is being taken away. But don‘t panic – there are ways to stop wage garnishment or at least reduce how much gets taken out.

How Much Can Be Garnished in Hawaii?

The amount that can be garnished from your paycheck is limited by federal and state laws. In Hawaii, creditors can take:

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  • Up to 25% of your disposable earnings, or
  • The amount by which your weekly disposable earnings exceed 40 times the minimum hourly wage, whichever is less

“Disposable earnings” means what’s left after legally required deductions like taxes and Social Security. So if your paycheck is $1000 and you pay $200 in deductions, your disposable earnings would be $800. 25% of that is $200 – the maximum that could potentially be garnished.There are some types of income that are totally off-limits to garnishment, like Social Security benefits, unemployment compensation, and disability payments. But for regular wages, that 25% cap is the most creditors can take in Hawaii.The garnishment amount is pro-rated based on your pay period too. So if you‘re paid monthly, they’d take 25% of your monthly disposable earnings rather than 25% of your weekly amount.

How to Stop Wage Garnishment in Hawaii

Okay, so now you know the basics of how wage garnishment works. But what can you actually do to stop it or get it reduced? Here are some options to look into:

File a Claim of Exemption

In Hawaii, you can file paperwork called a Claim of Exemption to get the garnishment reduced or eliminated entirely. This is based on showing that the garnishment would create a financial hardship and leave you without enough to cover basic living expenses.The exemption claim form has a calculation worksheet where you list out your income, reasonable expenses like rent/mortgage, utilities, food, etc. If your remaining disposable income after expenses is less than the federal minimum wage for a 40-hour week, you may qualify for a partial or full exemption from garnishment.It’s important to fill this out carefully and include documentation like pay stubs, bills, etc. The creditor can object if they think you’re lowballing expenses or overstating income. But if approved, the exemption stops or reduces the garnishment amount.You can get the exemption claim forms from the court that issued the garnishment order. There’s a small filing fee, but it’s well worth it if it protects your paycheck.

Negotiate a Settlement

Another option is trying to settle the debt directly with the creditor or collection agency. Offer to pay a lump sum that‘s less than the full balance if they agree to stop garnishing your wages.Creditors would rather get some money than risk you filing bankruptcy and getting nothing. So they may be open to settling for 50-60% of what’s owed, paid in one shot.The key is having that lump sum ready to pay. You could borrow from family, do a payment plan with the creditor for a few months to save up, or look into getting a debt consolidation loan.If you can swing it, settling is a good way to make the garnishment stop and resolve the debt quickly. Just get the settlement agreement in writing before paying!

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File for Bankruptcy

For some people in really difficult financial situations, bankruptcy may be the best solution to stop all garnishments and get a fresh start.As soon as you file for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy, an automatic stay goes into effect immediately stopping any wage garnishments. The creditors have to stop taking money from your paycheck while the bankruptcy case is pending.In a Chapter 7, most types of unsecured debts like credit cards and medical bills get discharged or wiped out completely. So there’s no more reason for a garnishment after your case is finalized.With Chapter 13, you get on a repayment plan to catch up on missed payments over 3-5 years. Garnishments are put on hold during this time. Once the repayment plan is completed, any remaining balances are discharged.Bankruptcy isn‘t the right choice for everyone, but it can provide much-needed relief from wage garnishment if you qualify. Just be sure to talk to an experienced bankruptcy lawyer first, as there are costs and long-term credit implications.

Head it Off Early

The absolute best way to stop wage garnishment in Hawaii? Don’t let it get to that point in the first place!As soon as you miss a payment or get sued over a debt, take it seriously. Respond to any court notices and show up for hearings. You may be able to work out a payment plan or settlement to avoid a judgment against you.If a creditor does get a judgment, act quickly before they can garnish your wages. Look into filing an exemption claim or bankruptcy right away if needed.It’s much easier to prevent garnishment than to stop it once it’s started. So be proactive about addressing debts before they snowball out of control.

When to Hire a Lawyer for Wage Garnishment

For many people dealing with wage garnishment, hiring an experienced debt relief lawyer is worth the investment. An attorney can:

  • Ensure you meet all deadlines and file paperwork properly to claim exemptions or file bankruptcy
  • Advise you on which legal strategies make the most sense for your situation
  • Appear in court hearings on your behalf
  • Negotiate affordable payment plans or settlements with creditors
  • Put an immediate stop to any illegal or excessive garnishment

Trying to navigate the legal system alone when your income is already being garnished is extremely difficult. A lawyer helps even the playing field and protects your rights.

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