What is Disposable Pay?

Understanding disposable pay is the best way to estimate the earnings that you can actually use after relevant pay portions are withheld. Learn everything you need to know about disposable pay by reading on.

Disposable pay is the money left over in a paycheck after all the deductibles go through, like taxes. What people have left is one of the key ways the state of the economy is evaluated. Unavoidable and legally required deduction which will not be included, such as:

  • State taxes
  • Unemployment insurance taxes
  • Retirement deductions
  • Social Security

Deductions that aren't legally mandated, such as:

  • Life insurance
  • Charity
  • Pension
  • Medical insurance
  • Saving plans

must be included when calculating disposable income. The government isn't taking it. People voluntarily choose to get those things. Regardless of the type of pay, like basic pay, incentive pay, special pay, and more, deductions can still occur. This series of deductions is why the pay that you take home may not necessarily be the same thing as disposable earnings.

Statistical Uses of Disposable Pay/Disposable Income

Disposable income is a great way to measure the economy. It's typically used as the starting point when evaluating rates of saving and spending per household. Discretionary income, marginal propensity to consume and save, and saving rates are all determined by starting with disposable pay. Discretionary income is something different, as it includes expenses for necessities like health insurance, transportation, food, and mortgage, as well as disposable income. Discretionary income can be used for all the extra things in life, like luxury items, or people can choose to save it. The personal savings rate is how much disposable pay gets put into retirement savings. This is expressed in a percentage. Economists also measure marginal propensity to consume, which is how much disposable pay is spent. Marginal propensity to save is the opposite, measuring how much disposable pay is saved.

What are Administrative Wage Garnishments?

Administrative wage garnishments are how the government can take deductions from your pay without a court order. Up to 15 percent of your disposable pay can be taken. At most, 30 times the minimum wage is left to you. If minimum wage is $7.25/hour, that means $217.50 is safe from deductions. Creditors have a minimum amount of disposable pay that they can take under the Consumer Credit Protection Act. Disposable earnings eligible to be taken is either 25 percent of someone's disposable earnings for the week or by the difference between their disposable earnings and 30 times the maximum wage. Whichever is lesser can be qualified for garnishment. State laws also protect the wages of a debtor. The disposable income calculation is lower when the government calculations include retirement plan contributions and insurance premiums, so it garnishes less money.

Wage Garnishment Limits for Student Loan Debts.

All garnishments like student loans cannot exceed 25 percent of disposable income. If student loans default, the U.S. Department of Education can take 15 percent of your disposable earnings.

Wage Garnishment Limits for Child Support or Alimony

For mandated child support, the government will have part of your income automatically withheld, even if the child support isn't delinquent. The employer will directly send the withheld money to the other parent or guardian of the child. There are also deductions for the child's health insurance if that's required. It's possible to opt for manual payments rather than wage withholdings. If you have to support a family other than that of the child needing child support, up to 50 percent of your disposable earnings can be taken for that. If you don't have to support a separate family, the rate increases to 60 percent. If you're late by more than 12 weeks, that rate goes up by 5 percent.

Wage Garnishment Limits for Tax Debts

The IRS has restrictions on how much they can take mostly based on how many dependents you claim. When it comes to state taxes, the authorities may have different criteria. While the IRS will send you a warning before taking a portion of your money, it doesn't need a court order at all.

State Wage Garnishments Limits

State protections for debtors must be at least as good as the federal requirements. Upon meeting that standard, they are free to give greater protection. Massachusetts, for example, prevents creditors from taking more than 15 percent of workers' pay.

Challenging Administrative Wage Garnishments

Before garnishments take place, the employee must receive notice from the Department of Education. Workers are entitled to hearings if they want to dispute the debt or set up a different repayment schedule. If they request a hearing within 30 days of the warning, garnishments can't go through until the hearing is over. After 30 days, hearings can still be requested, but the employee must win in order to stop the garnishments at that point. A common challenge is claiming that garnished wages will be a financial burden on the debtor and their dependents. Note that some states will have different requirements for challenging this.

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