As many investors have learned, obtaining a judgment against someone is only half of the process. Once you obtain a judgment, you have to collect on the judgment. With some defendants, such as tenants and contractors, this can be particularly difficult.
How Do You Collect on a Judgment?
There are various ways to collect a judgment. The first, and often most effective, is by garnishing the defendant’s wages. A wage garnishment order will require the employer to withhold 25% of the debtor’s wages and to pay those wages to you. If you do not know the debtor’s employer, another option is to garnish a bank account. This can be an effective method if the debtor has money as in most instances you can take the entire amount in the account; however, in many cases a debtor does not have very much in the bank. If the debtor owns multiple properties, expensive cars, boats, or airplanes, you might be able to sell that property as well.
What is an Aid of Execution Hearing?
The challenge; however, is knowing where the defendant works, where they bank, or what assets they have. In order to discovery this information, a debtor may be called into an “aid of execution hearing” where the defendant has to answer questions under oath about his or her assets and income. If the defendant does not appear, a bench warrant will be issued and the defendant may be arrested. The limitation, however, is that cops do not actively serve these warrants. Therefore, the defendant is only arrested if he or she interacts with police for other reasons.
If a defendant lies during an aid of execution hearing, the defendant has commited perjury, which is a crime. The issue, however, is that it is difficult to prove the defendant is lying because if we knew the defendant’s employer or assets, we wouldn’t have scheduled the aid of execution hearing. As such, aid of execution hearings are great in theory but have limited results in practice.
How Else Do You Learn About Employers and Bank Accounts
Finding collectible assets is an art, not a science. There are databases, which we have access to that provides information from credit reports, which may lead to useful information. Additionally, general internet searches may recover useful information as well. Sometimes that means searching social media accounts or accounts of relatives and friends. It might also involved other investigative work. You can also hire investigators who can do other forms of research to locate this information.
When we get a new collection file, we will do an in-depth analysis of all records available to us, the internet, and social media. We will also search other court cases because sometimes this can lead to information (e.g., another creditor garnished a certain employer or bank). If that is not successful, we hire an investigator to search for an employer. If there are no employer matches, we have the investigator conduct a bank account search. If all of this doesn’t work, we try an aid of execution hearing. If we are still unsuccessful, we will notify you and then periodically conduct searches until you elect to remove the file from our office.
What Does the Collection Process Look Like?
The collection process is outlined below. If you elect to work with us for your collection matter, we will provide you with access to an iPhone, Android, and web app that helps you to track exactly where we are in the process.
Introductory Phone Call
In order to get started, we will schedule a short ten minute introductory call to go over the process and what it is like to work with our firm.
At this point in the process, we will ask that you complete an intake form providing us with the information you have about the debtor. We will also ask for copies of any relevant documents. Once we receive this information, we will conduct an in-depth search to determine ways to collect from the defendant. This review may take a few weeks as we want to turn over every stone in our efforts to find ways to collect on your judgment.
If we are unsuccessful in finding a way to collect from the defendant, we will send the file to a private investigator to conduct a further search. This will include a search for bank accounts and employers. This process may take a month or longer while the investigator does his or her searches.
Aid of Execution Hearing
If our efforts in finding the debtor’s employer or assets is not successful, we will call the defendant in for an aid of execution hearing where he or she must answer questions under oath about his or her income and assets.
Once we have found an employer or bank to garnish, we will ask the court to enter a garnishment order. It will take the court a few days to enter this order and then it must be served on the employer or bank. Once served, the employer or bank has thirty days to respond. As such, it may take about 45 days for a response to the garnishment order to be received.
Once the order is served on the employer or bank, money will be withheld and sent to our office. When received, the funds will be deposited into the firm’s trust account and distributed to you (minus the firm’s fees) on a monthly basis.
What If I Don’t Already Have a Judgment?
If you do not already have a judgment, we will be happy to file a collection action on your behalf. The process for proceeding with a collection action is as follows.
Introductory Phone Call
This step may not be necessary for repeat clients, but if you are just getting started working with the firm or if you have questions, the first step is to schedule a time for a quick ten minute introductory phone call to discuss working with the firm and our processes.
The next step in the process is for you to submit to us the information necessary to for us to prepare the collection suit. We ask that you do this using our online webform, and you will be asked to uploaded copies of the necessary documents at the time you complete the form.
Once the form is completed, we will prepare and file the collection petition.
When the case is processed by the court, we will be provided with a date for the answer hearing. The answer hearing is a date where the defendant is asked to come to court to “admit” or “deny” owing the money.
The court does not take any evidence at this hearing and you do not need to come to court as we will handle this on your behalf.
If the defendant admits owing the money, you win and judgment is entered. If the defendant denies the debt, the court will set this matter for a trial.
During this phase, the defendant may ask for information or documents about the case or we may ask for information from the defendant. This process can take several months and is for the purpose of giving everyone the information to be presented at trial.
A pre-trial hearing is a hearing where the judge attempts to determine if there is an agreement on any facts and what issues are before the court. You are not required to attend as the court will not take any witnesses or listen to evidence other than the attorneys summary of the case. A
A collection trial usually takes less than an hour and is fairly straight forward. You will be required to appear at the trial so we ask you questions about the debt and any payments made. The defendant can then ask you questions. At the end of the trial, the court will make a decision and enter a judgment.
How Much Will Post-Judgment Collection Cost?
We use a slightly different model than other firms when it comes to collection. In order to get started, we ask that you make a deposit of $500. This deposit will be used exclusively to pay third parties, such as the court and investigator. If it is not all used, it will be returned to you. We do this because we have found our clients are in the best position if we have the ability to hire investigators and utilize other resources to research ways to collect on the judgment.
As far as the firm, we are only paid when you receive money. If we collect money via a garnishment order or settlement with the defendant, we will retain 30% of any amount received.
How Much Will a Collection Suit Cost?
We believe in fair, honest and predictable pricing. Therefore, we charge a set rate per each stage of a collection law suit. In order to get started, we ask for a deposit of $900. We will then bill against this deposit throughout the handling of this matter as set forth here.