A collection agent or law firm that owns a collection account is a creditor. In order to collect on that collection account, the creditor must first file a lawsuit against the account holder, or debtor, and obtain a judgment. The most important thing you can do if you’ve been sued by a creditor in Florida is to respond to the complaint. Ignoring a lawsuit will not make the problem go away, and in fact will lead to much larger issues later on for the person being sued
In Florida, a debtor has 20 days to respond to a lawsuit. If the debtor doesn’t respond to a lawsuit in the required time period, the creditor will get what is called a “default judgment” and the case is essentially over. That is the best result for the creditor, as they don’t have to spend any additional time proving that you owe the debt and can proceed on with the next step which is collecting on the judgment.
In addition, the creditor will often tack on outrageous legal fees, penalties, and interest charges to the original balance in the debt. While creditors have a number of options to collect on a judgment against a debtor, one of the most commonly used methods is a wage garnishment. The laws for wage garnishments vary by state and there are a number of exceptions to the rules, but Florida follows the federal law that allows a creditor to garnish up to 25% of a person’s disposable earnings. That means if you make $1000 a week after taxes, a creditor could garnish up to $250 a week from your wages to collect on the judgment. This garnishment can continue until they have collected the entire amount owed on the judgment including additional interest from the date of the judgment.
The good news is there are some very large exemptions to wage garnishment in Florida. Florida has a $750 exemption for the “head of family” which is defined as any natural person who is providing more than one-half of the support for a child or other dependent. This means that all disposable earnings of a head of household less than $750 a week are completely exempt from attachment or garnishment. Not only does the head of family get the $750 a week exemption, but under Florida law any earnings over $750 a week are also exempt from garnishment unless that person has agreed otherwise in writing.
In addition to the head of family exemption, if you take home less than 30 times the minimum wage per week, all of your wages are exempt. Other types of income, including Social Security benefits, workers compensation, unemployment benefits, disability benefits, Veteran’s benefits and retirement benefits are exempt from garnishment.
Make sure you understand your rights when you are sued by a creditor. A wage garnishment may be the worst case scenario, but if you don’t understand your rights and protect yourself from the beginning, it is a very real possibility for a debtor who has had a judgment entered against them. Talk to a Perry Draper Law attorney for a free consultation on your situation.