How Do I Collect on a Small Claims Judgment?

Collecting Small Claims Judgment
Collecting on a Small Claims Court Judgment. Glow images, Inc. / Getty images

Question: What are my Options for Collecting on a Small Claims Judgment?

You have won your case in small claims court, and the judge has issued a judgment against the other party for payment to you and for court costs. Now you must collect on that judgment. It is not as easy as it sounds, because it is likely that the losing party will be reluctant to pay, but you do have some options for collecting this money.

Answer:

If the judge in small claims court rules in your favor, or if a default judgment is issued because the defendant fails to appear or defend the case, the court will issue a judgment for a specific amount of money. This amount will include court costs as well as the amount the court has stipulated you be paid.

If the other party appeals the Court's decision, he or she is required to put up an Appeal Bond, guaranteeing payment if the appeal is denied. This may help you get your money, but you will have to wait until the appeal is heard.

If the other party does not voluntarily offer to pay you, you must decide how to proceed to get your payment. You have several options:

  • You can request the Court to require that the other party make installment payments.
  • You can do nothing and wait. The judgment will be entered as a lien against real estate or other real property owned by the other party. The lien must be paid off when the property is sold. If you wait long enough, you will get your money when the property is sold.
  • You can contact the other party and discuss payment, including payment terms.
  • If the other party does not agree to voluntary payments, or has stopped making payments on an installment agreement, you can file an Affidavit of Default with the Court showing the unpaid balance and requesting action.
  • You may ask the Court to garnish the person's wages or seize property owned (personal bank accounts) to pay off your debt.

    In some cases, none of these options works, especially if the party has no assets, no wages, no savings, and no hope of getting the money to pay you. In this case, you maybe should have checked to make sure this person had money before you started the process.

    Be Persistent
    Because people who don't pay their bills are often reluctant to pay even court-ordered payments, you will need to  be persistent in asking for the money owed you.  The court doesn't automatically force a losing party to pay up; you have to actively work to get the court to garnish wages, put a lien on property, or initiate an installment payment plan.  State laws differ, so find out your rights for getting your money, and keep going back to the court for help.  It's one of those cases where, if you don't ask, you don't get.

    When All Else Fails
    The old saying, "You can't get blood from a turnip," applies here.  Sometimes, the person you have sued has no money, no assets, no job, no way to pay you back.  As the Iowa Bar Association says, "Obviously, if you have reason to believe any money judgment you might receive in Small Claims Court will not be collectable because of the other party's inability to pay any judgment, you probably should not even file your claim." Sad, but true.

      The best way to collect in small claims court is to make sure the person you are suing has the money to pay you.

     

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