On Wednesday, Washington Governor Jay Inslee signed a bill that creates a limited, automatic protection from bank account garnishment.
House Bill 1525 protects as much as $1,000 in a person’s bank account from being garnished. The new law is intended help people pay for basic needs like food, medicine, or shelter.
Typically, when a person is indebted to an agency or business, the creditor can go to court to get a judgement against a person. The judgement can be used to garnish the person’s bank account. If the debt is for more than what’s in their account, then the person’s entire account can be frozen.
The account owner can then fill out an exemption form to unfreeze some of those funds (between $500 and $2500, depending on the type of debt), but a vast majority of people facing garnishment are unaware of or are not exercising that right. Those who do may have to wait weeks to unfreeze those funds.
“Low-income Washingtonians can’t—and shouldn’t have to—wait weeks to pay for groceries or medicine,” said Antonio Ginatta, policy director at Columbia Legal Services. “HB 1525 is a commonsense bill that cuts through bureaucracy and helps people facing financial crisis.”
The Washington Supreme Court has called garnishment an “extraordinarily harsh remedy.”
Washington now joins New York, Massachusetts, and California as states that offer this type of automatic protection.
HB 1525 is effective for four years, to particularly address the looming debt crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. After four years, the legislature will have an opportunity to revisit and improve this new remedy.