By Jedidiah McKeehan

Almost every day in almost every county in America, people are getting sued because they owe money to someone. It can be a credit card debt, a medical debt, or back rent that individuals and companies are suing on to collect the money they are owed.

Let’s say that a lawsuit is filed, and then it goes to court and the defendant (the person owing money) does not even bother to show up to court.  A judgment will be entered against them for the amount requested.  But then what?  How do they collect that money from the person who owes it?

One way to do it is through wage garnishment.  Collecting this way requires that the person who owes the money actually has a job, but if they do, and you can figure out where they work, you can have their wages garnished to pay what they owe.

So if someone owes me money and I get a judgment against them, and I know where they work, then I can file a wage garnishment with the court and the court will send out paperwork to their employer essentially saying, “you are required to start sending part of their paycheck to the court to pay on this debt that they owe.”

Let’s dive into some specifics though.  Tennessee Code Annotated section 26-2-106 states that someone’s wages can only be garnished up to 25% of what they make.  Further, the person owing the money always has the option to quit their job so their wages will not be garnished anymore.

Finally, when someone’s wages get garnished, they will often file a petition with the court to pay by installment.  They will total up their income and expenses and offer to pay some lower amount to the court each month instead of having their wages garnished.  If the judge agrees to accept what they are proposing, then the wage garnishment would be removed.

In child support cases, you cannot typically get out of a wage garnishment unless you are paying what you owe in full each month.  Judges will generally require that a wage garnishment stays in place in those cases.

In a single case, pursuing money this way may not be worth it, because it can be a hassle to try to change small amounts of money this way, but for big collection companies, it’s purely a numbers game.  Collect a little bit of money on a whole bunch of cases in order to turn a profit.


Jedidiah McKeehan is an attorney practicing in Knox County and surrounding counties.  He works in many areas, including criminal, personal injury, landlord-tenant, probate, and estate planning. Visit for more information about this legal issue and other legal issues.