Can the IRS Garnish Wages from Both You and Your Spouse?

A piece of paper on a desk with the words "wage garnishment" on it

If you and your spouse have filed jointly, the IRS can issue wage garnishment onto both you and your spouse. Generally, the IRS policy is to garnish the wages of the higher earning spouse, but they may deviate from this rule if you’ve flagrantly refused to pay your tax debt.

What is Wage Garnishment?

When you owe tax debt and the IRS has sent you several notices demanding payment, you may be at risk for enforced collections. A wage garnishment is a common IRS collection tactic, which involves taking a portion of each paycheck you receive and applying it to your tax debt.

A taxpayer gets an exempt amount that cannot be garnished based on their filing status and number of dependents. For example, a married taxpayer who files jointly and has two dependents will receive $2,733.33 per month. The rest of your wages will be sent to the IRS until your tax debt is paid off in full.

Keep in mind that if you receive any bonuses or commissions, the IRS can also seize 100% of these amounts.

Joint Tax Debt

When you owe tax debt on a joint return, the IRS can go after either or both spouses to collect the money.  The Internal Revenue Manual states that it is IRS policy to generally levy only the wages of the higher-earning spouse unless the taxpayer has committed flagrant misconduct.

Flagrant misconduct can involve tax fraud, cases where the Trust Fund Recovery Penalty has been assessed, or a pattern of uncooperative behavior to delay collection. In these cases, the IRS can garnish the wages of both spouses.

If you are still married, only one spouse can claim the standard deduction for figuring the amount of exempt wages. If you are no longer married, both spouses can claim the standard deduction for their respective filing statuses.

How to Stop Wage Garnishments

You are generally better off making monthly payments on an IRS installment agreement than having your wages garnished. In particular, taxpayers with high incomes may pay much less each month by negotiating an installment plan.

You should also see if you could benefit from other tax resolution strategies, such as innocent spouse relief. An IRS tax lawyer can go over your case and advise you how to proceed.

Contact an Attorney

Get free, no-obligation tax advice from an IRS tax lawyer by calling Ayar Law at 800.571.7175 today.

Venar Ayar, Esq.

Venar Ayar, Esq.

Attorney-at-Law, Master of Laws in Taxation
Principal and founder, Ayar Law

Venar is an award-winning tax attorney ranked as a Top Lawyer in the field of Tax Law. Mr. Ayar has a Master of Laws in Taxation – the highest degree available in tax, held by only a small number of the country’s attorneys.