How to Collect a Judgment in California
If you win a monetary judgment in a California small claims or civil court, it's your responsibility to collect that judgment. In an ideal world, the former defendant (now called ajudgment debtor, or simplydebtor) would simply pay you immediately. But it's not unusual to need to use additional methods to get your money. If you can't get the debtor to pay you voluntarily, you may be able to collect from their wages or other property, or put a lien on their home or land.
Getting the Debtor to Pay You Voluntarily
Organize your information.Until the judgment is satisfied, it's your responsibility to keep all of your court documents and receipts for expenses together. You can get reimbursed for many of the expenses you incur attempting to collect the judgment.
- Keep meticulous records of each step you take to collect the judgment. Record the dates and keep copies of any documents along with receipts for any expenses you incur. All of these expenses can be added to the amount the debtor owes you.
- Keep your collection records along with your copy of the judgment and all contact and other information you have regarding the debtor.
Send the debtor a demand letter.The debtor may immediately write you a check for the amount of the judgment as soon as it's entered – but don't count on it. If you don't receive payment within 30 days after the judgment is entered, write a demand letter and send it using certified mail with return receipt requested.
- You have to wait at least 30 days after the judgment is entered – that's the deadline to file an appeal. After that date, the judgment is final and you can collect on it.
- The California Courts have links to sample letters available at , as well as a link to a computer application that can help you write your letter.
- Set a deadline for a response – a couple of weeks from the date of receipt is sufficient. When you get the certified mail card, you'll know the date the debtor received the letter and you can mark your deadline on your calendar.
Offer to accept payments.You may have an easier time collecting your judgment if you are willing to work with the debtor. Installment payments can help the debtor work the judgment into their budget.
- Work with your bank and the debtor's bank to set up automatic bank drafts, which will give you more assurance that you'll get the payments on time.
- You are legally entitled to collect interest on the judgment amount as long as it remains unpaid. However, you may offer to waive the interest as long as the debtor makes regular payments. This provides an incentive to them to enter a payment agreement with you.
- If you agree to accept payments, draft a written payment agreement that both you and the debtor can sign. If they later stop making payments, you can have the agreement enforced in court. Attach a copy of the judgment to the agreement.
Have the debtor appear in court.When the clerk mails the Notice of Judgment to the debtor, they include a form that the debtor must complete and send to you within 30 days. This form tells you about the debtor's property and income that can be used to satisfy the judgment.
- If the 30-day deadline passes and you have not received this form, you can file anApplication and Order for Appearance and Examination. If you take this form to the clerk's office, they will issue it along with a subpoena for the debtor to appear in court and provide information about their income and property. The filing fee is . You must have these papers served on the debtor.
- You can download and complete the form at .
- The debtor must live at least 150 miles (240 km) from the court. If they don't, you'll have to have the hearing in a court closer to where they live.
Consult an attorney.If the debtor still won't pay after you've taken steps to persuade them to pay the judgment voluntarily, you might want to get an attorney to help. Collecting a judgment can be expensive and time-consuming.
- Any attorney's fees typically can be added to the judgment, requiring the debtor to reimburse you for them.
Collecting from Wages or Property
Fill out a Writ of Execution.Once you have information about the debtor's income and assets, you can use it to decide what property to take to satisfy the judgment. The writ of execution is used to seize physical property or money from a bank account.
- You can download this form at .
- If you want to garnish the person's wages, you must also complete and file an Application for Earnings Withholding Order. You can download this form at .
Have the court issue the writ.Once you've filled out the writ, take it to the clerk's office of the court that entered the judgment, along with a copy of the judgment. The clerk will issue the writ for the amount of the judgment.
- You'll have to pay a fee of to get the court to issue the writ. You don't have to include this amount in the writ – it can be added later.
Hire a sheriff or process server.A sheriff or process server must actually deliver the writ and seize the assets or money described in the writ to satisfy the debt. Whether you use a private process server or a sheriff depends on the county – some counties require you to use sheriffs for certain types of property.
- The court clerk will be able to tell you who you need to hire to serve your writ of execution.
- Fees to serve a writ of execution vary, but typically will be more than the base fees to simply serve court papers. Expect to spend as much as a few hundred dollars, depending on the type of property to be seized and the amount of money involved.
- To find your local sheriff, go to and click on the name of your county.
Have your levy or wage garnishment order served.Once you hire a sheriff or process server, they will serve your order on the relevant party. For property in the possession of the debtor, the levy would be served on the debtor personally.
- If you're levying assets in a bank account, the levy would be served on the bank. The sheriff or process server will have more information on this process and the instructions that must be delivered to the bank. You may have additional forms to fill out.
- If you're garnishing the debtor's wages, your order will be served on the debtor's employer.
- You'll be notified when your order has been served. From that date, the debtor has 10 days to challenge the order or claim they are exempt from it. You have the right to oppose them if they do. You may have to appear for a court hearing.
File an acknowledgment when your judgment is paid.When you've received your money, you must file a form with the clerk of the court acknowledging that the judgment has been satisfied in full. When you file this judgment, the debtor's credit report and other records will be updated to reflect the fact that they've satisfied the judgment against them.
- You can download the form from the California Courts at .
- If your case was in small claims court, use the form found at .
- You'll have to pay a fee to file this form.
Placing a Lien on Property
Fill out an Abstract of Judgment form.If the debtor has a house or land, you can place a lien on that property by filing an abstract of judgment. If the person tries to sell or refinance that property, they won't be able to do so without first satisfying your lien.
- The abstract of judgment form describes the full amount the debtor owes you for the judgment against them.
- You can download the form from the California Courts at .
Have the court clerk issue the abstract.When you complete the Abstract of Judgment form, take it to the clerk of the court that entered your judgment, along with a copy of the judgment itself.
- You will have to pay a fee of for the clerk to issue the abstract.
File the abstract with the county recorder.To place a lien on the debtor's property, take your abstract to the county recorder's office where the debtor owns a home or property. You'll have to pay a fee to the recorder, which will vary among counties.
- Do an internet search for "California county clerk recorder" with the name of the county to reach the website of the county recorder's office. There you'll find information about the individual county's procedures, as well as contact information for the office.
- You can also mail the abstract to the county recorder. If you do, call ahead and find out the amount of the fee so you can include the appropriate payment.
- You may not have to wait until the debtor sells or refinances their property to get your money. The lien will show up on the debtor's credit report and will affect their credit score. It may impact their ability to get a new job or open new lines of credit.
Video: POST JUDGMENT: HOW TO COLLECT YOUR MONEY?
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