Debt retrievers seizing money from American paychecks – study

Debt retrievers seizing money from American paychecks – study
One in 10 prime working age Americans are finding that by the time they get their paychecks, credit and loan businesses have been there first. The striking figure emerged after millions of payrolls were checked as part of a study by NPR and ProPublica.

READ MORE: Demystifying the US debt ceiling: 5 things you should know

The study ‘Garnishment: The Untold Story’, looked at the payrolls for 13 million anonymous Americans and found 7.2 percent, or over 930,000 people, are being garnished wages for child support, medical bills, student loans or court ordered debt before they ever see a dime.

In the study of 13 million ADP payroll checks of anonymous Americans, more than one in 10 employees, in their prime working ages of 35 to 44, had their wages garnished in 2013.

Child support payments were seized on 3.4 percent of checks, while 2.9 percent went for student loans and court ordered debt.

Debt retrieval begins in the local courts with a lawsuit seeking payment after a debtor falls behind for a few months.

A man walks past a "Store Closing" sign in a shop window at Quincy Market in Boston, Massachusetts September 5, 2014 (Reuters / Brian Snyder)

The study found it was the task of the employer to make those deductions, causing humiliation for employees.

“We conducted this study in order to paint a clearer picture of current garnishment trends among US workers,” said Ahu Yildirmaz, vice president and head of the ADP Research Institute, in a statement. “ADP’s robust data set allowed us to bring some clarity to a process that affects a large number of people, the scope of which has been poorly understood.”

The study was a collaboration of National Public Radio and Pro-Publica, which reviewed payrolls over three years to check how workers and families have been faring since the Great Recession.

“States and the federal government should look on reforming our wage garnishment laws with some urgency,” said Carolyn Carter of the National Consumer Law Center who found the study alarming.

READ MORE The biggest fall: Lehman Brothers, 5 years on

Wage seizure is decided under state law, but under federal law a debt company must free up 75 percent of the payroll after taxes for the employee. State laws vary though with four states - North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Caroline and Texas - banning garnishment.

Garnishment rates were highest in the Midwest and lowest in the Northeast according to the study.

Nearly 5 percent of those earning between $25,000 and $40,000 per year had a portion of their wages diverted to pay down consumer debts in 2013.

Since 2000, productivity in the US has increased nearly 23 percent, but the hourly wage for a median worker rose just 0.5 percent.

The long-term trend has been dramatic: Since 1973, productivity has grown roughly 80 percent, while median hourly compensation improved by roughly 11 percent, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

READ MORE: JPMorgan 'agrees' to tentative $13 billion penalty for role in 2008 financial crisis