Published: February 28, 2024

How Much Can the IRS Garnish From My Wages? Can They Take It All?

Wage Garnishments

Wage garnishment is one of the more extreme measures the IRS may take to recover the money it is owed. Whenever possible, the IRS prefers to work out a solution with delinquent taxpayers rather than simply seizing their assets or income. But if other attempts to collect have failed, you may find yourself losing a chunk of your income every month to the IRS. 

If you’ve received at least three notices from the IRS regarding your back taxes, the agency may move forward with a wage levy. We’ll discuss how much they can take, when garnishment is the best option for the IRS, and what you can do about it.

Facing garnishment and not sure how to keep providing for your family? It’s time to talk to a tax professional in your area. Explore our provider listings to find a highly-rated tax professional in your area now.

An Overview of IRS Wage Garnishment

Before seizing your income, the IRS will attempt to collect from you via a tax bill. They send at least three notices before they actually move forward with a wage levy. The notices themselves are often effective enough to get delinquent taxpayers to reach out and either pay in full or set up a payment plan.

Once the IRS has sent you a final notice of intent to levy and given you at least 30-days notice that they will be moving forward with wage garnishment, they will contact your employer directly and send them Form 668-W. Your employer has you fill out a Statement of Dependents, which they then use to determine how much money is sent to the IRS. The garnishment remains in effect until the tax debt, interest, and penalties are paid in full.

When the IRS Resorts to Wage Garnishments

Several conditions must be met before the IRS begins garnishing wages. First, you must have unpaid taxes or unaddressed tax debt. This is often a mix of income taxes, penalties, interest, and possibly self-employment tax or other taxes. The IRS will also exhaust other collection methods before moving forward with garnishment. 

Garnishment is one of the most expensive and time-consuming collection methods, so it’s more of a last resort. If a taxpayer does not respond to other notices or collection attempts, wage garnishment is often one of the the IRS's last resorts. Additionally, the agency can move forward with seizing your assets or bank accounts as well or instead of garnishing your wages.

The Process of Wage Garnishment and the Notices You Receive

First, the IRS will send you a breakdown of your tax will with a demand to pay. If you ignore or do not receive this, they move forward with a Final Notice of Intent to Levy. They also send you a notice of your right to request a CDP hearing. After they send the final two notices, they must wait 30 days. At that point, they can proceed with garnishment.

How Much Can the IRS Take From Your Income?

The IRS can take all of your income over the amount that you require for living expenses. Unfortunately, you don't get to say how much you need to live. The IRS has financial standards that it uses to calculate this amount. Keep reading for more details on how the IRS calculates wage garnishments. 

The IRS has more power than nearly any other creditor. Most other creditors must take you to court and get a judgement to garnish your wages. Then, they are limited in the portion of your wages that they can take. The IRS, however, is not subject to these rules. 

The IRS doesn't have to take you to court. The agency isn't limited to taking a certain percentage of your income. Instead, as indicated above, the agency can take everything over the standard threshold. Once that amount has been left, the IRS can take 100% of anything else, including bonuses, commissions, and wages from a second job. 

Wage Garnishment Calculations

When the IRS garnishes wages, the process and calculations are unlike those used by other creditors. To start, the IRS does not need a court order to garnish—they simply need to send the appropriate notices. Additionally, the way they determine how much to take is completely different than most other creditors. While most creditors take a set percentage of your total or disposable income, the IRS instead calculates how much income you can exempt from garnishment.

The standard deduction and number of dependents you have determine how much income the IRS can garnish. The calculations you’ll use when looking at Publication 1494 account for your filing status, number of dependents, and your pay frequency. Be prepared—the amount you see may be far lower than you’d like. 

For a single person with no dependents, the IRS generally lets you keep a bit less than minimum wage. For example, as of 2024, if you work full-time at the federal minimum hourly wage ($7.25), your earnings should be about $290 per week, and the IRS leaves you $234.62 per week if you're single with no dependents. 

The chart in Publication 1494 provides calculations for daily, weekly, biweekly, semimonthly, and monthly payment schedules based on your filing status and number of dependents.

Those filing single or married but filing separately have the lowest amount of exempt income. Those filing head of household have more exempt income, and those who are married filing jointly have the most- but of course, families claiming that status are also responsible for covering the needs of two adults so they generally need more money. 

Those who are at least 65 years old or blind have additional exempt income. For example, a taxpayer who is single, paid biweekly, and is 66 years old has an additional $150 in exempt income. 

Here is an example of what you will see when you look at Publication 1494. This chart shows the IRS wage levy calculations for a single filer as of 2024. Note that the IRS updates the numbers annually based on inflation, and again, the numbers are higher for people with other filing statuses (except married filing separately, which has the same thresholds.

Percentage Limits and Rules Regarding Garnishment

The IRS is not limited to taking a certain percentage of your wages. Instead, the agency can take 100% over the amount you need to live. If you have one job that covers your standard living expenses, the IRS can take the remaining amount of your wages. Then, on top of that, the agency can take 100% of the wages you get from your second job and 100% of any bonuses or commissions you receive on top of regular wages at your primary job.

If you’ve ever had your wages garnished by another creditor, you may wonder how much of your income is safe from the IRS. But due to the difference in laws regarding IRS garnishments, there is no real percentage limit. The more money you make, the more the IRS can take. That can be depressing but look at it this way. On the one hand, you may be working more and not having any more money to show for it; on the other hand, that may mean that your tax debt gets paid off more quickly and you can begin receiving your full paychecks again.

Type of Income Subject to IRS Wage Garnishments

Another question that often comes up is, “What type of income can the IRS garnish?” Unfortunately, the IRS garnishes hourly pay, annual salaries, bonuses, commissions, and other earnings paid out by your employer. 

This is complicated for sales professionals and those who regularly receive bonuses or commissions. For example, if you get a year-end bonus of several thousand dollars, it’s likely you won’t see any of it if your wages are being garnished. As long as the IRS has allowed you to keep your exempt earnings for that pay period, they may seize your bonus in its entirety. 

This also comes into play when an individual has multiple sources of income. If you receive your exempt income at your first job, any remaining income you receive from that job plus your earnings from your second job may go to the IRS.

What About Child Support?

One issue that often comes up in these discussions is child support. In most cases of wage garnishment, child support always takes precedence over other garnishments, regardless of when it is ordered. This is not the case when the IRS garnishes your wages. 

If the child support order is in place at the time of the wage levy, the amount you owe in child support will be subtracted first, leaving you with more exempt income. But if a child support order is entered after a wage levy is ordered, the IRS wage levy takes precedence. 

That said, when filing out the paperwork related to your wage garnishment, you should note all court-ordered child support that you pay. Although your wages aren't being garnished for the support, the IRS will take these amounts into consideration when calculating the amount of your garnishment. 

Note that you cannot claim a child as your dependent when calculating the amount of your IRS wage garnishment if you also claim child support for that child as one of your expenses. Generally, you should not claim a dependent for wage garnishment purposes if you do not claim the dependent on your tax return. Here's an example. 

Say you have two children who live with you, you pay for all of their support, and you claim them as dependents on your tax return. You have a third child who lives with your ex-partner, you pay court-ordered child support for that child, and you do not claim them as a dependent on your tax return. When you give your employer the paperwork to calculate your wage garnishment, you should note two dependents, and you should note the amount of child support you pay for the third child. You should not note three dependents. 


Wage Garnishment Calculation Examples

Using Publication 1494, you can see how much may be garnished in different situations. Let’s look at examples:

  • Example 1: An individual files head of household and has three dependents. They get paid $3,000 on a semimonthly basis. They have $1,537.49 in exempt income each pay period. The IRS can garnish $1,462.51 from each paycheck.
  • Example 2: An individual files taxes alone with zero dependents. They pay $100 per paycheck in child support for children they do not claim on their taxes. They receive $1,200 biweekly. The $100 would be subtracted from their income first, leaving them with $1,100. The IRS allows them to keep $561.54 in exempt income and garnishes $538.46 per paycheck.
  • Example 3: An individual files married filing separately with one dependent. They earn $400 on a weekly basis. Since the IRS allows $376.92 in exempt income, they would be able to garnish $23.08 per pay period.
  • Example 4: An individual is married filing jointly and has four dependents, which means that exempt income is $2049.99 per semi-monthly pay period. Their semimonthly income fluctuates because their position is commission-based. On their first paycheck of one month, they bring in $4,000. They keep $2,049.99 and the IRS keeps $1,950.01. On the month;s second paycheck, they don’t make as many sales and they only earn $2,000. The IRS receives nothing that pay period.

Note that these examples have been simplified to show you how garnishments work. IRS garnishments apply after the following deductions have been accounted for: federal, state, and local income tax, employee's share of Social Security and Medicare tax, and any legally required contributions to retirement plans. When determining how much to garnish, the IRS does not consider the following deductions: union dues, health and life insurance premiums, and re-payments to employers for payroll advances or merchandise, 

Preventing Wage Garnishment

Now that you know how much the IRS is going to garnish, how do you stop it from happening?

Being proactive and facing your tax problems head-on is the single best way to prevent wage garnishment. Remember, the IRS just wants to collect what they are owed. They don’t want to punish, embarrass, or impoverish taxpayers who have fallen behind. If there is any way to settle a tax debt except garnishment, they would generally prefer that solution. If you respond to IRS notices promptly and explore different ways to handle your tax debt, you are less likely to end up with a wage levy.

There are several different options you may explore in lieu of garnishment. First, consider an installment plan. This allows you to spread your payments out over many months, making payments much more affordable. You do have to make all payments on time and continue paying subsequent taxes on time to fulfill the terms of your installment agreement. For most families, the amount paid in a monthly installment agreement is much less than they would pay via garnished wages.

If you genuinely cannot pay the amount owed, the IRS may have some flexibility in that area. By working with a tax professional, you can look into an offer in compromise, currently not collectible status, innocent spouse relief, and penalty abatement. These all have different benefits and drawbacks, which is why it’s important to work with a licensed tax professional

For example, currently not collectible status may be a viable choice for those who genuinely do not have the money to pay a tax bill at the moment. However, it does not make the tax debt go away, and the IRS will check in periodically to see if your financial situation has changed. Once it does, they will require you to pay back the full amount owed plus penalties and interest. An offer in compromise may allow you to pay less than you owe to settle your debt, but you will need to prove to the IRS that what you are offering is truly all you can afford.

Legal Rights When Facing Garnishment

You have legal rights when the IRS takes action against you. You have the right to receive all legally required notices and communications from the IRS before they move forward with a wage levy. You are also legally entitled to an appeal of their wage garnishment decision. 

To assert this right, you must request an appeal within 30 days of receiving the Final Notice of Intent to Levy. If they begin garnishing your wages and it creates an immediate economic hardship, you have the right to contact the IRS to discuss having the levy released. This does not mean you no longer owe the money—it just means that the IRS will look into other options, such as a payment plan.

Negotiating an Alternative to Garnishment

While you can negotiate with the IRS directly, many taxpayers find it far preferable to work with an EA, CPA, or tax attorney. These professionals understand your rights and obligations as a taxpayer, and they know how to work with the IRS to secure a favorable outcome on your behalf. They may help you appeal the garnishment, pursue a payment plan that fits into your budget, or prepare an offer in compromise if your income is too low to support ongoing monthly payments.

What’s more important than any specific garnishment alternative, though, is taking action and doing so at the first chance you have. The IRS tends to be more flexible with those who address their tax issues, propose solutions, and work with them to come up with an agreement. If they have to send a dozen notices and actually enforce a wage levy to get in touch, they are slightly less favorable to other solutions. While no one enjoys communicating with the IRS, getting in touch as soon as possible usually yields a better outcome for your tax problems.

This is a situation where facing a problem head-on leads to better results than skirting the issue. Although changing jobs can temporarily solve the issue, it is only a matter of time before the IRS finds out you have a new place of employment and begins garnishing your wages there. If you decrease your income to the point that they cannot garnish anything from your wages, you are just temporarily protecting yourself from payments. At some point, your income will increase, and the IRS will then begin garnishing your wages again. By then, you’ll owe even more due to penalties and interest. It’s far better to work with the IRS toward a mutually beneficial outcome.

FAQs About Wage Garnishment

How much can the IRS garnish is one of the most common questions people have, but it isn't the only query we hear. Here are some additional FAQs. If you don't see your question, feel free to reach out to a tax professional:

How much can the IRS garnish from your wages?

The garnishment applies to your wages after income tax, Social Security, and Medicare. Once you've accounted for those deductions, the IRS can take everything over an exempt amount, which is based on your filing status and number of dependents. The IRS exemption also allows you to keep money for court-ordered child support.

How much can the IRS garnish?

After leaving you an exempt amount and enough to cover income and FICA taxes, the IRS can take everything else from your paycheck. the exempt amount varies based on your pay periods, number of dependents, and filing status.

What percent can the IRS garnish from your wages?

The IRS is not limited to taking a certain percentage of your wages. The IRS can take 100% of everything over the exempt amount, once you've accounted for FICA, income tax, legally-mandated retirement contributions, and court-ordered child support.

What are IRS garnishment limits?

The IRS can garnish all of your wages over the exempt amount until your tax debt, interest, and penalties have been paid. 

Get Help With IRS Wage Garnishments

When you work with a licensed tax professional, you can work to avoid garnishment by exploring different tax solutions and considering the best fit for your circumstances. Finding the right tax professional is key. Use our directory of highly-rated tax experts to connect with professionals in your area and take the first step to a fresh start free of tax debt. 

When you search for a tax pro using TaxCure, you can narrow down your results to find someone who has experience dealing with wage garnishments and removing tax levies. Then, you can read about their experience, look at reviews, and set up a consultation when you're ready. Don't delay, get high-quality, experienced, hands-on, personalized help today.

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