Tips for Collecting Your Judgment
Collecting a judgment can be one of the more difficult and frustrating parts of your small claims case. Remember, if the judgment was in your favor and you are owed money, you are now referred to as the judgment creditor. The person who owes you the money is the judgment debtor.
Here are some tips to help you collect your judgment:
Do not use illegal ways to collect your money
The debtor may be protected from abusive or unfair ways to collect the debt. And generally, it is not a good idea for you to use unfair or deceitful tactics to get the money the debtor owes you.
In your efforts to collect the debt:
- Do not lie or make misleading statements to collect a debt;
- Do not harass the debtor;
- Do not ask another person for more than basic information about where the debtor is;
- Do not tell the debtor's employer or other people that the debtor owes you money (except when you get an earnings withholding order from the court);
- Do not call the debtor before 8:00 a.m. or after 9:00 p.m. or at any time or place that is not convenient for the debtor;
- Do not threaten to hurt the debtor or the debtor's family, property ,or reputation; or
- Do not suggest the debtor will face criminal charges (if no crime was committed) or that the debtor's property will be taken (unless the law allows it and you intend to do it).
Encourage the debtor to pay you voluntarily
If you are too aggressive in collecting your judgment, the debtor may file for bankruptcy. This means you would have to file a claim in federal bankruptcy court. Because small claims are $7,500 or less, most small claims debtors can make payments over time. Try to work out a payment plan with the debtor.
Get tips to help you get the debtor to pay voluntarily.
- Keep records of everything you do to collect the judgment.
- Make a copy of the judgment.
- Write down the debtor's contact information and list of assets, unless the debtor sent you a Judgment Debtor's Statement of Assets (Form SC-133) in which case you should find the assets listed there.
- Keep track of your expenses. Many collection expenses can be reimbursed (added to the judgment so you can collect them).
- To calculate interest on your judgment, keep a record of the date your judgment was entered. Usually this is the same date the court clerk mailed the Notice of Entry of Judgment (Small Claims) (Form SC-130 or Form SC-200). Also keep track of the dates of any partial payments made by the debtor. If the debtor does make a partial payment by check, make sure to make a note of the location of the bank branch and the account number.
Ask a lawyer or collection agency for help
You can ask a lawyer or collection agency to help you collect your judgment. But you may have to pay a percentage of the judgment in fees (some agencies charge only 15 percent or 20 percent). They may also ask you to assign the right to your judgment to them. Usually, a lawyer or collection agency will write letters to the debtor. They can also help locate the debtor's assets. You can also do these things yourself.
Make sure you renew your judgment
Judgments are enforceable for 10 years and are renewable for another 10 years and then renewable after that. You must renew your judgment before it expires (runs out). For more information, read Renew Your Judgment.
Ask the court for help
If the debtor does not pay you, the court can also issue documents and make other orders allowing you to:
Read Ways to Collect From the Debtor for all the things you can try to collect your judgment. And keep in mind that your court's small claims advisor may be able to help you fill out these forms and understand the court and collection process.