Surprise – I’m Getting Garnished

An unusual number of people find out they have been sued only after receiving a garnishment order from a court.

How it Happens

The most common way I see this happen is when a debt collector sues a person using old, outdated information. For instance, the debt collector sues a person and attempts to serve the summons and complaint to the person at an address they had when the debt was incurred. Because the person doesn’t live there, the lawsuit often gets served by posting or by notice (meaning the person being sued may not find out about the lawsuit). The debt collector ultimately gets a default judgment and the person who was sued doesn’t even know.

Once a debt collector has a default judgment, it can begin to collect through garnishment proceedings. The court can allow a bank account, pay check, or state tax refund to be garnished. The amazing part is that a debt collector who couldn’t find the debtor for personal service of the lawsuit, suddenly knows where the person works or where they bank.

What Action to Take

  • Look at the garnishment order right away.
  • Determine if the information is accurate. Is the garnishment order for the correct employer or bank? For example, if an account is closed, or the garnishment is for a past employer, the reaction may be different than if the garnishment is for a checking account that a rent or mortgage payment is about to come out of.
  • Find out how long you have to object to the garnishment order. Act promptly to protect your rights.
  • Document when and how you received the garnishment order.
  • Contact an attorney right away. Waiting too long to seek legal help, or failing to object to the garnishment can make a resolution much more difficult.
  • File objections to the garnishment order, if appropriate. This process can complicated, but not impossible without an attorney. Certain accounts are exempt from garnishment. Certain types of income are exempt from garnishment.

Other Resources

The Michigan Legal Help Program website has a whole section dedicated to debt collection and money/debt self-help information and tool kits. Check them out at

Legal Aid of Western Michigan is another resource for pro bono legal services.