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Objective information on small claims judgement collection

How to find a debtor’s assets

From CollectYourJudgment.org

What you can do

While there may be many reasons for a person to hide assets, one of the reasons may be because they owe someone money; and what they don’t have they can’t pay.

If a judge has awarded you a judgment in small claims court, you will want to find those assets and collect the money you have been awarded. There are several strategies available to you to collect your money, such as wage garnishment, bank garnishment, and rent garnishment. For a full list see General Methods for Collecting Your Judgment on our Resources page. In order to successfully utilize any of these methods you will have to become somewhat of an amateur detective; however, keep in mind that you can do this on your own.

But before taking any of the following steps, talk to the person if you can and try to get some commitment from them to pay. If you don’t have any luck, write a demand letter (see the “Sample Demand Letter in our Resources) requesting the money that they owe. If this fails as well, or they claim to have no money, go ahead and do some digging.

  • Remember, first, to record your judgment with the court so that your award is properly recorded.
  • You will need to know their name and address to access public records which are available in every jurisdiction.
  • You will also want to know where the person works and what kind of employment he has — is he an employee, a contractor, or is he self-employed.
  • Look for other income, such as from rents or interest; you will want to see how much of this passive income there is.
  • You might also want to find out if they own property or if they have recently sold or transferred any such personal property — information that you can acquire from public tax or property or deed records.
  • You will also want to watch for property or other transfers to family members or “trusted friends”, the latter of which will be extremely difficult to trace.
  • Another bit of information that you may need has to do with the person’s bank accounts, checking and savings to determine the amount in the accounts and whether it would even be worth it to garnish them. Finding this information may require what is referred to as a business record subpoena, but this would give you, among other things, access to cashed payroll checks from which you can find out the name of his/her bank and the account numbers.

Some limitations and a few things to keep in mind

  • I you have not yet filed your small claims case, you may want to do this detective work to determine the probability of being able to collect the debt should you win your case — is it worth it to even file your claim?
  • If you have a judgment against an individual, you may not be able to find any attachable assets by simply searching public records. Judgment debtors are smart. They know you are looking for their bank accounts. Most of them do not have open checking/savings accounts in their name. They may even have a PayPal account where money can easily be hidden and a subpoena may be required to gain access to them.
  • While you can do this on your own, if you decide that it is too time consuming or you’re not the best at detective work, then feel free to contact us for assistance. Perhaps, with some additional explanation or information, we can make the process easier.
  • Though we do not endorse any individual attorneys, if you need the assistance of a lawyer, or would at least like to consult one before you get started, we can provide you with the names of some local attorneys or free legal services in your area.

More small claims articles and pre-litigation resources

We are available at any time to answer your questions regarding your possible claim, proceeding to court or mediation, and collecting your judgment. Contact us if you have questions or would like a recommendation for professional help in collecting your judgement.

Resources for
collecting your judgment

General Methods for Collecting Your Judgment

More judgement collection and judgment enforcement articles & resources

Article of the month

Bank Account Garnishment

What You Should Know
Before You File a Claim

Resolving Claims without Going to Court

Important Terms to Know

More pre-litigation articles and resources...

States—A Closer Look at Small Claims

This month’s focus: Michigan

All states

Document Samples

Collect Your Judgment Links

Small Claims Court Links to each State

Other Resources

Tip of the Week

September 27, 2010

If you have been awarded a judgment, waited the 30 days required, sent a demand letter giving the debtor a time limit for paying his/her debt; what should you do if you still have no money? You know that the court can do little, but before you take steps to garnish wages or bank accounts, consider suggesting negotiation or mediation if the debtor gives any impression that they want to settle the matter.

More tips...

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