How To Collect A Money Judgment

Published: 30th January 2012
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Chances are, if you've been awarded a civil judgment in court, you're also one of thousands of frustrated judgment holders that have yet to see a dime. You're certainly not alone... roughly 80% of judgment holders have never been paid.

Most believe that when they've won a judgment the court will ensure the judgment is paid - but the shocking truth is: the court will not enforce your judgment. The responsibility to make the debtor pay sits squarely on your shoulders.

Our court system provides many powerful remedies to collect judgments from unwilling debtors... Unfortunately, unless you know where the debtor's assets are located and how to use the court system to initiate those procedures, you're out of luck.

The good news is that the judgment is valid and enforceable for an average of 10 years, and it's renewable in most states. Better still is the fact that interest accrues on judgments, so if it's a couple of years old it's worth considerably more today than it was the day it was awarded.

Before you'll be able to make the judgment debtor pay up, you'll need to locate him/her and his/her assets. This is referred to in the judgment recovery industry as "skip tracing."

The first step in the process is building a profile of your debtor. You'll want to make sure that all of your details are correct from the very beginning; like the spelling of the debtor's name, the last known address, the social security number and date of birth of the subject (if available). This way you'll have accurate information when it's time to act through the court system. I could write an entire article on skip tracing - and I probably will, soon - but for now I'll just say that in order to seize anything, you have to know what and where it is.

Some very basic asset information may already be known to you... such as where the debtor is employed, or if the debtor owns a home or business. If the debtor has ever written a check to you, the information about the debtor's bank account will probably be readily available from the bank where you deposited the check. If this information is not available, you can also outsource the work to an asset investigation company for a nominal fee.

There are other legal discovery procedures in your toolbox, as well. As a judgment holder you can legally compel the debtor - or anyone else with knowledge of the debtor's assets - to appear in court to answer your questions about finances and assets. In addition to the debtor examination, you can use a subpoena to demand specific types of documents like bank statements, employer check stubs, deeds, etc. You can even ask the judge to instruct the debtor to turn out his/her pockets and surrender any cash or valuables they may be carrying. This is a powerful, yet frequently under utilized enforcement tool!

Once the assets have been located there are several legal procedures at your disposal. In most states asset seizures are initiated by issuing a writ of execution (or writ of garnishment or fieri facias) from the court, and providing that writ along with specific instructions to the county sheriff's civil department, who acts as your levying officer and carries out your directions.

If you've determined where the debtor works, in most states you can initiate a garnishment of wages. A wage garnishment orders the debtor's employer to withhold typically 25% of their disposable income every time the debtor gets paid, and send it to you.

Another common collection method is the bank account garnishment. If you know where the debtor banks, you can have a garnishment served there. Once the garnishment is received, the money in the account is frozen - nothing goes in, and no withdrawals are allowed. Anything that was in the account at the time the garnishment was served is turned over to you.

Other potential assets include business income and equipment, rental property income, under the table income, real property (houses, lots, etc.), personal property (automobiles, heirlooms, recreational vehicles, boats - even livestock!). If you discover that someone owes money to your debtor, you can also intercept that to satisfy your judgment. It pays - literally - to look beyond the norm when considering what assets you can seize to satisfy your judgment.

I should note here, that not all assets are subject to seizure to satisfy civil judgments. These are called "exemptions" and usually include child support, welfare, disability, social security and retirement income. Also, it would irresponsible of me if I didn't acknowledge that not all judgments are enforceable. The adage "blood from a turnip" comes to mind, so it's only fair to let you know that only about 50% - 60% of judgments are actually collectable. But all-in-all, if you find non-exempt assets then there's a great chance you'll be able to enforce your judgment.


Christina Smiley has been enforcing civil judgments and providing professional judgment recovery training since 1997. Want to learn more about how to make money enforcing judgments? Download Christina's popular free e-course, available at: =>

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