Washington Governor Jay Inslee signed a bill today that creates a limited, automatic protection from bank account garnishment. House Bill (HB) 1525, sponsored by Representative Amy Walen (D-Kirkland), will automatically protect as much as $1000 in a person’s bank account from being garnished, giving them the opportunity to pay for basic necessities, like food, medicine, or shelter.

When a person owes a debt and is in collections, the creditor may go to court to get a judgment against that person. That judgment can then be used to garnish the person’s bank account. If their debt is for more than what’s in their account, then the person’s whole 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.” HB 1525 will help to soften the blow of suddenly having one’s bank account totally frozen.

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.

Media Contacts

Antonio Ginatta, Policy Director,
(360) 943-6260 EXT 202, antonio.ginatta@columbialegal.org

Adriana Hernandez, Communications,