You’ve Gotten a Judgment – How Do You Collect?

how to collect judgement

When you win a judgment, whether at trial or as a result of the opposing party’s failure to respond to a lawsuit, there is no guarantee that the opposing party will voluntarily pay the judgment or that you will be able to collect.

In some cases, the person you got the judgment against—now called the judgment debtor—will have insurance coverage to cover the lawsuit or will have assets available to pay. Other times, the judgment debtor may refuse to pay the judgment or may not have sufficient assets to pay the judgment. When payment is not forthcoming, and no payment plan has been arranged, there are steps that you can take to collect—called enforcing the judgment. 

Before you take steps to enforce the judgment, your state may require you to provide the judgment debtor with time to either pay, appeal the judgment, or arrange for a payment plan. Only after this period of time has passed can you take additional steps to enforce the judgment.

The good news for you, as the judgment creditor, is that judgments are valid in most states for 10 years, and in some states, they can be renewed for an additional 10 years after that. As a result, even if the judgment debtor is unable to pay you in full at the time you obtain the judgment, you may be able to collect what is owed to you over time.

Judgment enforcement options

There are several ways that you can obtain payment from the judgment debtor, including garnishing his or her wages, placing a lien on real estate the judgment debtor owns, or attaching bank accounts or other assets. You may need to conduct post-judgment discovery to get information about the judgment debtor’s income and assets, so you can locate them and enforce the judgment.

Whether you are garnishing a judgment creditor’s wages or seeking to seize property or bank accounts, you will usually do so through the sheriff or other designated law enforcement, by providing them with the writ and directing them to seize the assets of the judgment debtor. In the case of a wage garnishment, the sheriff would notify the judgment debtor’s employer and instruct them to make the payment.

Wage garnishment

In many states, you can garnish an individual judgment debtor’s wages to pay a judgment. However, you cannot garnish an unlimited amount of money from the judgment debtor’s salary. Federal law limit garnishment to no more than 25% of the judgment debtor’s net income (depending upon their salary), but state limits may be more restrictive.
Before issuing an order to garnish a debtor’s wages, you may need to prove to the court that the debtor owes you the money and that they have not been making payments before a judge will order garnishment of wages. If you can prove that the debt is valid and that the judgment debtor has refused to pay, the court will issue an order, usually called a writ, which you can then use to attach the judgment creditor’s wages.

Seizure of bank accounts and other assets

If you know where a debtor has a bank accounts, you may be able to issue a notice to those banks and have the payments garnished from the debtor’s bank accounts. If your judgment is against a company or business rather than an individual, you may be able to request that law enforcement seize accounts, machinery, tools, computers or other equipment to satisfy the debt.

Liens on real and personal property

In some states, entering or recording a judgment automatically places a lien on the judgement debtor’s real estate and personal property. If this is not the case, recording the judgment with the secretary of state may serve to enter a lien on any property owned by the judgment debtor that has title recorded with the state, including vehicles and real estate. The lien prevents the title from being cleared and the property from being sold unless and until all liens on the property are satisfied.

Enforcing a judgment in another state

If the judgment debtor or their assets are in a different state than the state where the judgment was issued, you will need to have the judgement recorded in the other state as a foreign judgment. Once recorded, you can use the same methods described above to obtain payment in that state.

If you have a judgment that the judgment debtor refuses or is unable to pay, consult an attorney who can help you by conducting discovery, and preparing and filing the necessary documents to secure payment on your behalf. Use our site to describe your judgment enforcement issues and find a qualified attorney in your state.

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Posted - 06/15/2018