Virginia Garnishments – What You Need to Know

Here’s some information for people in Northern Virginia about garnishments and Virginia garnishment law.

There are two big things you need to know.

People who are threatening you about garnishments are usually NOT going to garnish you.

Real garnishments can come without warning.

Let me explain.


The first time people hear a threat of garnishment is usually from a collection agency. The debt collector call and says you need to overnight a payment to us or we will put a garnishment on you. They say it like they can get a garnishment by next Tuesday.

They can’t. (They can’t, at least, unless you’re talking about a government debt like taxes. The tax collector can garnish you by Tuesday–what I’m saying on this page doesn’t apply to taxes.)

(If a debt collector is really insistent that you send a payment today, they may be worried about the “statute of limitations.” The statute of limitations says that if a creditor waits too long to try to collect a debt–it can be five years or even three years since the last payment–then they are too late to sue you. Scaring you into making a payment starts the five years all over again.)

Telephone threats of garnishment mean it’s time to figure out how to handle your debt problem. The threats don’t mean you need to send a payment, and they may mean you definitely should NOT send a payment. Or at least you should not send a payment without talking to a lawyer first.

If you are dealing with a really insistent bill collector, say, “I need to talk this over with my lawyer.”

“WARRANT IN DEBT” First step to garnishment

In order to get a garnishment, a creditor has to take you to court and win. Taking you to court starts with sending you court papers. Those court papers are usually called a “warrant in debt” here in Virginia.

(They have to take you to court in Virginia if you live in Virginia. You should keep that in mind when you get threat letters from lawyers. A lawyer in Atlanta GA probably doesn’t come to Virginia to take people to court. A lawyer in Rockville MD probably does. A lawyer in Richmond VA does almost for sure.)

The way you get a warrant in debt is for the sheriff to come around and tape it to your door. The creditor will also mail you a copy. The warrant in debt will have a return date which is your first court date.


If you admit you owe the money or don’t show up on your first court date, they get a judgment. Ten days after the judgment, then they can get the garnishment.

Around here, most people don’t show up for their court date, so they automatically plead guilty to owing the debt. Ignoring court papers is usually not a good idea, and especially not in Virginia where the judges don’t lose sleep over whether you really knew about your court date.

Most people who do show up for court, just plead guilty.

The judge says, “do you owe this money?”

“Yes, but I can’t pay it right now.”

Judge, “OK, you can discuss it with that lawyer after court.”

Do that, and you just pled guilty! The ONLY judge who cares about whether you can pay is a bankruptcy judge. Bankruptcy judges worry full time about whether you can pay, so the other judges don’t have to worry about it at all. And they don’t.

If you go to court on a warrant in debt you should tell the judge you are not admitting you owe the money and you need time to talk about it with a lawyer. Some judges, especially in Loudoun county, will crowd you to just plead guilty, but if you stand your ground they can’t make you.


If you show up for your first court date, don’t plead guilty, and ask for a trial, you’ll get a trial date a month or two later. At the trial you need to stop the creditor from proving that you owe the money.

The creditor’s lawyer probably appears in that court on hundreds or thousands of cases each year. You’re there for the first time. That gives you an idea of what your chances are of winning if you show up without a lawyer.


Ten days after your trial–or ten days after you plead guilty–the creditor can get a garnishment. There isn’t another court hearing on whether you should be garnished; the lawyer just walks down the hall to the clerk’s office and signs a paper.

That paper is called a garnishment summons. The Virginia garnishment summons has a return date, but that return date is not a date for you to tell the judge you don’t owe the money or can’t afford to pay. The return date is the day your employer or bank is supposed to turn in the money.

From the clerk’s office, one copy of the garnishment summons goes to your bank or employer, one copy goes to you. Nobody cares whether you get your copy before your payroll office or bank gets theirs.

This is what I meant when I told you in the beginning real garnishments can come without warning. There are lots of steps leading up to the garnishment, but when it finally hits, it hits without warning.

The garnishment summons tells your payroll office to take one-quarter of your pay and make plans to send it into court on the return date. The garnishment summons tells your bank to take your whole bank account, including everything that you deposit between now and the return date, and make plans to send that in.

(One exception on bank accounts–if the money in the bank came from Social Security, the bank is NOT supposed to send that in for the garnishment.)

Obviously, as soon as you know a garnishment is coming, you need to stop direct deposit of your paycheck. That’s because they only can take one quarter of your pay (that’s bad enough), but they can take the whole check once it hits your bank.


If you are anywhere on this page, you really need to talk to a lawyer. I’m a Virginia bankruptcy lawyer, so I’d like for you to talk to me.

Fifteen million Americans filed bankruptcy in the last ten years. The reason is, for most people, bankruptcy works.

You can find out what real people in Northern Virginia say about how bankruptcy worked for them. Look at this website:
 For most people, bankruptcy means they can’t call you, they can’t garnish you, and in three years you can be back to good credit.


I have a whole lot of info about Virginia bankruptcy at my main website:

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