The logic behind Pennsylvania’s arcane wage attachment law escapes me. I cannot figure out why the Commonwealth wants to protect debtors at the expense of legitimate creditors. What are the drawbacks to adopting more liberal wage attachment laws? Who does it hurt? The vast majority of people pay their bills, in full, when they come due and would to be affected by wage attachment. Only small minorities of people do not pay their bills and I can see no reason why the legislature would want to protect those people. Unfortunately (and inexplicably), Pennsylvania has some of the most restrictive wage attachment laws in the country.
The vast majority of states allow commercial creditors to garnish a percentage of a debtor’s wages. For example, in Alabama and California, a creditor may attach up to twenty-five percent of a debtor’s “disposable” income (i.e. income remaining after paying certain “necessities,” such as food, shelter, taxes, etc.).
Only four states prohibit or severely restrict wage attachment. South Carolina is the only state that completely prohibits wage attachment. New Hampshire prohibits “continuous attachment,” which means that creditors must file a new lawsuit each time they want to garnish a paycheck (which is rarely cost effective). Texas allows wage attachment only to pay child support.
Similarly, in Pennsylvania, wage attachment is only available to pay taxes and child support. This is particularly problematic for creditors in Pennsylvania because Pennsylvania law prohibits execution against jointly owned (marital) assets unless a creditor has obtained judgment against both husband and wife.
Two justifications have been proposed in support of the restrictive Pennsylvania wage attachment law. First, the legislature is concerned that wage attachment will have the effect of forcing some debtors into poverty, thereby forcing the state to bear the cost of supporting those debtors. Second, supporters believe that wage attachment is counter productive because debtors, upon receiving less of their income and having less incentive to work, quit their jobs and apply for welfare.
In the coming weeks and months, I intend to contact our local state senators and congressmen about wage attachment in Pennsylvania. There may just be support to expand the attachment laws for the benefit of all Pennsylvanians. Stay tuned . . .