Chances are, if you won a small claims judgment in court, you're also one of thousands of frustrated judgment holders that have yet to see a penny. You're definitely not alone… roughly 80% of all judgment holders haven't been paid either.
Most believe that when a judgment is awarded the court will make sure the judgment is paid - but the shocking reality is: the court will not enforce your judgment. The responsibility to make the debtor pay sits squarely on your shoulders.
Our court system offers many powerful legal remedies to collect from unwilling debtors… Unfortunately, unless you know where the debtor's assets are located (like a job, bank account or other property and income) and how to use the court system to seize those assets, you're out of luck.
The good news is that your judgment is going to be enforceable for at least an average of 10 years. Better news is the fact that post-judgment interest has been accruing on your judgment, so if it's a couple of years old it's worth considerably more today than it was the day it was granted.
Before you'll be able to make the judgment debtor pay up, you'll need to find him/her and his/her assets. In the judgment recovery industry we call this "skip tracing."
Your first step in this process is to build a profile of the debtor. You'll want to make sure that all of your facts are accurate from the very beginning; particularly the spelling of the debtor's name, the last good address, the date of birth and the social security number of the subject (if available). This way you'll have the correct information when it's time to act through the court. I could write an entire series of articles on skip tracing -but for now I'll just say that to successfully seize assets, you have to know what and where that asset is.
You may already know some basic helpful facts - such as where the debtor is working, or if the debtor owns a house or a business. If the debtor has ever written you a check, information about the debtor's bank account should be available from the bank where the check was deposited. If that is not available, for a reasonable fee you can always outsource the work to an asset investigation company.
There are other legal ways to get information, too. As a judgment holder you can require the debtor - or anyone else who may know about the debtor's assets - to come to court and answer your questions about finances and assets. Additionally you can use subpoenas to obtain specific types of documents like employer check stubs, bank statements, deeds, etc. You can even ask the judge to make the debtor to turn over anything is his or her pockets and surrender any money or possessions they have on them. A post-judgment examination is a potent, yet often under-utilized collection tool!
Once you've found the assets there are several legal procedures at your disposal. In most states asset seizures are started by filing a writ of execution (or writ of fieri facias) with the court. Then you'll provide the writ along with some written instructions to the county sheriff's civil department, who will carry out your specific directions.
If you've learned where the debtor works, in most states you can garnish wages. A wage garnishment orders the debtor's employer to withhold 25% (on average) of their income every time the debtor gets paid. Any withholdings will then be sent to you.
Another routine collection procedure is the garnishment of a bank account. If you know where the debtor banks, you can have the account garnished through the Sheriff's Department. Once the bank receives the garnishment, the money in the account is frozen - nothing goes in, and no withdrawals are allowed. Anything that was in the account at the time of the garnishment is sent to you.
Other assets you can seize include real property (lots, houses, etc.), business income and equipment, rental property income, under the table income, personal property (automobiles, recreational vehicles, heirlooms, boats - even crops or livestock). If you've determined that someone owes money to your debtor, you can even intercept it to pay for your judgment. It pays - literally - to think outside of the box when considering what assets you can seize to collect your judgment.
I must note - not all types of assets are available for the collection of civil judgments. These exceptions are called 'exemptions' and usually include disability, welfare, retirement income and/or social security. It would also be irresponsible of me if I didn't acknowledge that not all judgments are collectable. The expression "water from a stone" comes to mind, so it's only fair to let you know that typically about 50% - 60% of judgments are actually enforceable. But overall, if you can find non-exempt assets there's an excellent chance you'll be able to collect your money.
Christina Smiley has been enforcing civil judgments and providing professional judgment recovery training since 1997. Want to learn more about how to make money with a judgment recovery business? Download Christina's popular free e-course, available at: =>
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