Congratulations on winning your judgment in court.
You may have thought that when you won the judgment, the debtor was going to start paying you the money that they owe you. Well by now you must have realized that just because you won a judgment doesn’t mean you are going to receive any money. The collection of the judgment is totally up to you. The courts are not going to make the debtor pay you. You have to find the money and assets yourself.
Let me introduce myself. My name is Lance Casey and I am a private investigator licensed in the state of California. One aspect of my business is collecting judgments. I got into the judgment collection business after I won a lawsuit against one of my tenants. I thought at the time that I was going to start receiving money after I won the lawsuit. Boy was I wrong. All I had was a piece of paper that awarded me some money. It was totally up to me to collect the money. I realized that I was on my own.
I had to figure out how to collect my judgment the hard way by trial and error. I spent way too many trips to the court house and sheriffs office. Once I figured out how to collect on the judgment, I decided to start my judgment collection business. I now collect judgments for other people.
Our firm collects judgments from people for a split of all the funds that we are able to collect. We charge an upfront fee of $200 which is used to pay the fees assessed by the court/sheriff and other services needed to collect the judgment. The judgment must be at least $2,500.00.
I receive calls daily from people who want to collect on their judgments which are less $2,500.00 or they don’t want to give up 50% of their judgment. At first I was spending a lot of time on the telephone telling people the steps to collect the judgment themselves. I later realized that this time talking to people was taking time away from the part of my business which pays my bills. I am the kind of person who wants to be as helpful as I can so I decided to write this manual.
Now when I receive calls for information on how they can collect their own judgment, I tell the caller to download and read this manual. I want you to consider this manual as an outline you can use to collect the money that is owed to you.
I am not a lawyer. Do not consider this manual as legal advise. If you want legal advice, call a lawyer.
The following topics are covered in this article:
• Finding The Debtor
• Finding The Debtor’s Employer
• Finding The Debtor’s Assets
• Finding The Debtor’s Bank Account
• What Forms To Use
• Garnishing the Debtor’s Wages
• Lien the Debtor’s Property
• Seize the Debtors Bank Account
• How To Recover The Fees Paid To Collect The Judgment
• How To Conduct A Debtors Examination
• Example case from start to finish
Finding the Debtor
Locating the debtor is the first step I conduct in collecting judgments. Since I am a Private Investigator, I have access to data that is not available to the public. There are sources on the internet where you can conduct which is called a skip trace. Some of these sources are free and some are for a done for a fee.
It is my experience that the free web sites are just teasers to get you to spend money for more information. You will run a search of a person’s name. The web site will tell that they located the person but If you want the complete record they now charge a fee.
You can also hire a Private Investigator to locate the Debtor’s current address. Our firm provides this service and it will be discussed later on in the manual.
Finding the Debtor’s Employer
This is one of my favorite collection strategies. To collect from the debtor’s employer is called a wage garnishment. I love putting a wage garnishment on a debtor’s employer but first you have to locate the debtor’s employer.
Locating their employer can be difficult. I will use my Private Investigator database as my first step. If the results identify a possible employer, I will call the employer and ask for the employee. If I discover that the employee works there, I will hang up. I will call back and ask for the company’s address. I will then search my databases to determine if the company is a corporation. If the company is a corporation, I will go to the California Secretary of State web site and obtain the agent for service of process. You will need this for service of the wage garnishment.
Each state has am agency that regulates corporations and limited liability companies. You will obtain the agent for service of process from them.
I will call the debtor’s neighbors, family members and associates. There are laws that regulate the collection of debts and you have to be careful. If you violate one of their rules, you can be sued. Make sure you read up on these laws before you start calling people looking for the debtor or their employer. I will never say that I am collecting a debt when I call people. I will tell them that I the debtor is applying for a job requiring a security clearance and I am verifying prior and current employment. You will be surprised what people will tell you when you act like you know what you are doing.
You can also hire a private investigator to locate the debtor’s employer. Our firm provides this service and it will be discussed later on in this manual.
Some cases may require following the debtor from home to work. We do it all the time.
Finding the Debtor’s Assets
Assets that the debtor owns can be seized and sold to satisfy the judgment. These assets include houses, land, apartments, cars, boats, plans, stocks, bonds and many other items. You have to find these items before you can seize them. When I say seize them, I don’t mean you can go over there and take them yourself. The sheriff will be the one to seize and sell property. But first you have to find the property.
Real property is anything that is attached to the land which includes, houses, apartments, condos, commercial buildings ect. The ownership record of real property is maintained by each county. For you to locate the real property that is owned by your debtor you would have to go to each county office and conduct a search. Your judgment could be from let’s say Sacramento County California yet the debtor owns property in Florida. You would not know this unless you went to the county in Florida and conducted a search.
Some counties property ownership records are online but you would have to go through every county in the United States to find all of the real property owned by the debtor. I use my private investigator database to locate the property owned by the debtor. My property ownership database covers the entire United States. Our firm conducts these types of searches and it will be discussed later in this manual.
Find the Debtor’s Bank Account
This is the one thing that could get you in trouble the most. The laws regarding locating another person’s banking information are harsh. Yes you could go to jail. Yes you could pay a hefty fine. Make sure you research these laws. Never….Never…..Never call a bank and use deceit to locate a debtor’s bank account. Never act like you are the debtor when you call the bank….. I mean never…. Don’t do it……
There are other ways to find their banking information. I will use the debtor’s examination as a starting point to finding their banking information. The debtor’s examination is also used to subpoena records from anyone that has done business with the debtor. The debtor’s examination will be discussed later in this manual.
What Forms to Use
There are forms that will need to be filed with the court and served on the debtor once you locate the debtor, assets, employer and bank accounts. The following are the forms that I most commonly use in the collection of judgments:
• Writ of Execution
• Memorandum of Costs After Judgment
• Application for Earnings Withholding Order
• Abstract of Judgment
• Civil Subpoena (Duces Tecum) for Personal Appearance
• Notice of Levy
How to Recover the Fees I Paid to Collect the Judgment
There are fees that you will have to pay to recover the judgment. The most common fees are paid to file the Writ of Execution, process service and the fees paid to a private investigator for research on the debtor. The Memorandum of Costs After Judgment form is used to recover the fees paid to collect on a judgment. You will have to list the fees on this form and file with the court. You will not be able to recover the fee paid for this manual but you may be able to recover the fee paid to our firm for conducting an asset/employment search of the debtor.
I have had many people ask me if they would be able to recovery my firms 50% portion of the judgment if we collect the judgment. The answer to this question is NO!!
How to Conduct a Debtors Examination
This is one of my favorite strategies to use pressure on the debtor and get them to pay. This is the way I get other people and companies involved in the debtor’s business. This is how I find the debtor’s banking info as I told you about earlier. The short version of the Debtors examination is you are tying to find out as much information on the debtor as possible. You are going to subpoena records from the debtor’s landlord, the debtor’s lenders, and anyone else who may have knowledge about the debtor’s finances. You will file the Civil Subpoena (Duces Tecum) for Personal Appearance to start the process of the examination. Once the court assigns you a court date, you will have to have the debtor served in person. You will also complete a Civil Subpoena (Duces Tecum) for Personal Appearance/Production of Documents for each of the debtor’s creditors. This will require the creditors to send info on the debtor to the court which will be give to you. Here is the fun part. You are asking the creditor for banking information of the debtor and they have to give it to you. You will see an example of this in the example case. I have several forms that I attach to the Civil Subpoena (Duces Tecum) for Personal Appearance which is included in the example case.
Example Case from Start to Finish
I am titling this an example case but it is an actual case that I am working on. The forms are the same forms that I filed with the court.
Here are the facts of the case:
In 2003, a person filed a small claims lawsuit and was awarded a judgment in the amount of $3397.61. The person was unable to collect anything so they contacted my office for assistance. I conducted an asset/employment search on the debtor and determined that the debtor owned three houses. I drove by the houses and determined that one of the houses was listed for sale. I wrote down the real estate agents contact information.
I filed a Writ of Execution (Money Judgment) with the court. If you are having trouble with the interest amount, take the form to the clerk and they may help you in your figures. I forgot to cover earlier on how interest is calculated. You are entitled interest from the day that you are awarded the judgment. Each jurisdiction may have a different interest rate. The interest is added to the judgment by including it in the Memorandum of Costs After Judgment.
Since the debtor owned property that was actively for sale, I wanted to make sure that the judgment would be paid out of the proceeds of the sale of the house. I completed the Abstract of Civil Judgment –Civil and Small Claim. I took this form with me when I filed the Writ of Execution. The clerk at the court house will stamp the Abstract of Judgment and give it back to you. I took this Abstract of Judgment and filed it with the county recorder in the county where the debtor owned property. I made sure the clerk at the recorders office gave me a copy of the filed Abstract of Judgment.
I then called the real estate agent and determined which title company was handling the sale of the house. Once I had this information, I decided to subpoena the title company records of the debtor. I completed the Civil Subpoena (Duces Tecum) for Personal Appearance and Production of Documents for the Title Company. I took the form to the court clerk and the stamped it. I then had a process server serve the title company. The title company is a corporation so their agent for service of process was located on the California Secretary of State’s website. You would use this same website when doing a wage garnishment and the employer was a corporation.
I also completed the Civil Subpoena (Duces Tecum) for Personal Appearance and Production of Documents for the lenders of the houses owned by the debtor. These were also taken and stamped by the court clerk and served by a process server. Guess what was mailed to me by one of the mortgage companies. Not only did I get all the loan information on the debtor. I got his mortgage applications as well as banking information. The debtor had paid his mortgage payment online and the mortgage company had his banking information which they were required to give me.
With the banking information, I filed the Notice of Levy under the writ of Execution (Money Judgment) with the sheriffs department. Guess what. The debtor had money in this account which was seized by the Sheriff and the Sheriff sent the check to me. I sent the original creditor their share of the judgment.
I have attached several attachments that can be used with the filing the subpoena.
Since this debtor didn’t work, I couldn’t garnish their wages. The amount currently collected on this judgment didn’t satisfy this judgment so my next step is to have the sheriff sell the real estate to satisfy the judgment. I doubt that it will go to that extent so I am hoping by my filing the forms to start the sale the debtor will just pay me off.
Most cases are as simple as this case. Sometimes the debtor will attempt to stop you from collecting. That’s when you will need the assistance of someone who knows what to do. I don’t recommend trying it yourself. That’s when you come to a firm like mine. We will collect the judgment for you at no costs to you. We will pay all collection fees. We will do all the research to find their assets and employer.
Remember that this manual is your guide to assist you in collecting your own judgment.
Our firm will conduct asset/employment/bank account searches for you for a fee. This report will list current and prior addresses of the debtor. It will list neighbors and possible relatives, provide the contact information on all property owned by the debtor as well as owners information on the places that the debtor has lived. And yes you can subpoena past landlords for financial information on the debtor as well as their rental application. Don’t forget that this fee may be passed onto the debtor.
If you have been unsuccessful at collecting the judgment and want to allow us to collect it for you, complete the contact form below.
One important point I want to cover if you want us to collect the judgment for you. We only will take judgments when the debtor has something for us to take or wages for us to garnish. If you debtor doesn’t work and doesn’t own anything, there is nothing to collect. We will not accept these types of judgments.