Thursday, January 31, 2008

Collecting on Your Small Claims, J.P. or Municipal Court Judgment

This post was first published in 2007. The advice still holds true in 2008. Read on!

So you've taken your debtor to court, and obtained a civil judgment. Now what?

Too many judgment creditors enter the court room with the mistaken assumption that obtaining judgment solves everything. The courts will collect on their judgment for them, and of course, the debtor will pay!

Unfortunately, most judgment creditors have a rude "morning after" experience with their Small Claims / J.P. Court judgment. Debtors rarely cooperate, and creditors find out quickly that it is not the court's responsibility to collect the judgment for them.

So what's a Small Claims or J.P. Court civil judgment creditor to do?

Before You Go To Court...

It's best to start thinking in terms of your recovery before you step into court.

1) Get a valid address for your debtor
2) Start keeping a journal of interactions with debtor
3) Save all documentations, receipts, invoices, etc.
4) Save your cancelled checks, if you have any
5) Make note of any vehicles, boats, motor homes parked outside of residence
6) Find out a place of employment

After you obtain your judgment, you need to understand what your court WILL NOT do for you:
  • Actively take over your judgment and collect it for you
  • Perform research on your debtor
  • Give advice as to how to collect your judgment

What will your court do for you? Accept your filings, and advise on your county/city/state laws regarding your collection (and even then, it's best to research this for yourself).

A Little Explanation...

At this juncture, it will be helpful to understand what filings the courts can process for you, and what these filings do:

1) Abstract of Judgment - different than your judgment decree. This document is filed in your court's "Real Property" department. This filing will hold up the sale of non-exempt property until the judgment lien is released. Also, some courts will submit this information to various credit bureaus, although this practice is highly variable!

2) Writ of Execution - Depending on the court, an execution means several things. First, it is a questionnaire that implores the debtor to declare what assets he/she has available to satisfy the judgment (hint - they always say "nothing"). Second, it sends a law enforcement officer to the debtor's residence to inquire about, and/or seize property to enforce the judgment.

3) Writ of Garnishment - There are several types of garnishments that can be conducted. The most commonly used garnishments are wage garnishments and bank account garnishments. A garnishment "freezes and seizes". Wage garnishments, therefore, freeze and seize a portion of the debtor's paycheck (done on a repeating, regular basis), and bank account garnishments freeze and seize a bank account (usually performed just once per garnished account), both with the intention of obtaining monies to satisfy a judgment.

Collect Your Judgment!

It is rarely advisable, and is simply unnecessary, to seek out or use a judgment collector for Small Claims / J.P. cases. Armed with knowledge, investigative information and persistence, any Small Claims or J.P. Court judgment creditor can attempt collection of their own judgment.

Your typical next steps:

1) Know your county and state laws and restrictions regarding post-judgment recovery. If possible, ask for this in writing from your court. If that doesn't work, most state governments are online, and information may be available there.

2) Understand that these laws govern your next actions. Some states are more "debtor-friendly" than others, meaning there are more limitations on what you can do to satisfy the judgment. These limitations (or lack thereof) will govern your next steps.

3) Immediately file an Abstract of Judgment on your case.

4) If you know your debtor's employer, file for wage garnishment (in states that allow this).

5) If you've been smart and saved a cancelled check from your debtor, immediately file for a bank garnishment on this account. If the account is closed or empty, you will need to have an asset investigator conduct a bank account search to find another account. But you have nothing to lose by attempting to garnish the account listed on your cancelled check, except the few dollars you spent at the court for the filing fee.

6) Be aware that in order to process liens, garnishments and other filings in court, you must know beforehand what property, vehicles and financial accounts your debtor owns. Your local court WILL NOT research this for you, nor will they accept your filing without you detailing this information!


7) It is imperative that you find out your debtor's assets with a comprehensive asset search. It will be virtually impossible for you to find out every single asset your debtor owns by yourself. Some information is simply not accessible publicly, and you are limited geographically. Asset investigators have access to information not publicly available, and can search for assets on a nationwide basis.

Without this information, your lien, garnishment or writ of execution is pointless. It's like fishing without a hook, or hunting without bullets. Sure, it's action, but it has no substance of enforcement. It's a useless exercise.

Which brings us to the most common mistake made by creditors...

8) DO NOT ask for a writ of execution without knowing what, if anything, your debtor owns that can be seized or used as leverage!! To send a law enforcement officer on an execution, when he doesn't have any information on what he/she should be looking for and what property he/she should be seizing is a complete waste of time and money. It's like sending a hunter out without any bullets..

9) Be open to a settlement from your debtor. Keep in mind that your debtor will not settle unless forced to. Therefore, getting to the settlement phase usually requires all the actions listed above. Once at the negotiation table, be prepared to just that - negotiate and settle. Be realistic, know what the debtor is, or is not capable of, and be willing to make a reasonable compromise. Like it or not, obtaining a settlement for less than the amount on the judgment decree may be your best hope of getting any financial recourse whatsoever.

Get the settlement agreement in writing, and if the situation warrants and the court will allow it, use the services of an attorney for the process.

10) After a recovery or settlement is made, make sure to follow through with any filings that pertain to the satisfaction of judgment and release of liens.

Knowledge is Power

The more you know about your debtor, the court, and the judgment process, the more empowered you will be to make a successful recovery.

At this point, please take some time to visit our website and look over our asset search offerings for judgment creditors. Since we are a judgment recovery firm, our we know exactly the kind of information that's needed by our customers to make a recovery. See us at:

Asset Search:

About Us/ FAQ:

We are bonded, insured, members of the Better Business Bureau and law-compliant. We've been trained by the State Bar of Texas, and have a solid attorney client base who use us for asset search information. We also believe in giving consumers a fair deal, so our prices are very competitive. Unlike many on the web, we publish our pricing and will tell you right upfront exactly what information is included in our packages.

A Brief Disclaimer

First of all, this blog is not legal advice. We have been in business over 5 years collecting on judgments and researching judgment debtors. This blog simply shares the knowledge we've gained from our professional experience. For legal advice, always see an attorney.

We are also not recovery consultants. If you call our office, it needs to be in regards to placing an order, not gaining advice. That's what this blog is for!!

Second - we wish we could end this blog entry with the wonderful promise that by following our advice, 100% of all judgments will be recovered 100% of the time. That's just not possible.

We've mentioned debtor friendly states. If you reside in Texas, Florida, or other debtor friendly states, you have issues from the get-go. Here in Texas, you can't garnish wages. You cannot place liens on a primary residence that's homesteaded. The debtor must have a certain dollar value of "seizable" non-exempt assets before a property seizure can take place. So if your Texas debtor is a renter with little to no property ownership, your only recourse is bank account seizures, which may, or may not, yield much in terms of recovery.

Even in states that are creditor friendly, a lack of property ownership or financial accounts on the part of the debtor will make a recovery difficult.

Still, a creditor should understand exactly what his chances are. Having an asset search performed, even if it does not yield the information one hopes for, allows the creditor to understand his/her chances of recovery.

And what is true today will change in several years. Patience is a great virtue in judgment recovery. The statute of limitations in many states is 10 years or more. So if a case is unrecoverable today...wait. Over the course of several years, your debtor's situation (and your chances for recovery) may change, and the judgment should accrue interest. Coupled with the fact that most states allow you to renew your judgment indefinitely, this should give judgment debtors pause, and judgment creditors a lot of hope.

To visit our website -

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

When pursuing your civil judgment, Kenny Rogers was a wise old sage:

You gotta know when to hold 'em
Know when to fold 'em
Know when to walk away
Know when to run
You never count your money
When you're sittin' at the table
There'll be time enough for countin'
When the dealin's done.

This may seem like strange advice coming from a company that collects on civil judgments. But we talk to too many frustrated potential litigants not to make this point:

Know when to "fold".

Here are some questions to ask before "presenting your hand" in court:

1) Are you just trying to "teach your debtor a lesson"?

Guess what. Your judgment will teach them nothing. A civil judgment is not a moral enforcer. It does not create a change of heart, nor does it "punish" anyone. Your civil judgment is a piece a paper that allows the law to assist you in making financial recourse on your debt. Nothing less, nothing more.

OUR ADVICE - Do not go into court emotional. Focus on your financial game, and not on "teaching your debtor a lesson".

2) Is the debt of a size worth pursuing?

You were defrauded out of $400. This, to you, is no small amount. But, consider the cost of pursuing your case. You have the initial filling fee. You have the cost of time off of work to present your case. If you win your judgment, you then have fees for filing of abstracts, writs of executions, and other legal manuevers. If you need to investigate your debtor, that is no cheap proposition. By the time you calculate the cost of pursuing your judgment, you likely will have spent MORE on pursuing the judgment than verdict granted you.

OUR ADVICE - FOLD your hand if the debt is smaller than the potential recovery minus expenses.

3) What do I know about my debtor?

Am you suing a tenant that is an unemployed deadbeat? Do you know good and well that the person owns nothing but the clothes on their back? Do I understand if the business I am pursuing is operational? If it is, is it a franchise or corporate owned? If you know nothing about your debtor, your chances for recovery are less certain.

OUR ADVICE - if the debt is small and you either know your debtor is a deadbeat or know nothing at all about them, consider FOLDING.

4) Am I patient enough to WAIT on the recovery?

If you go to court for a small amount on a deadbeat, this is what you will have to do. Period. Some cases are not immediately recoverable, especially in debtor-friendly states. Can you wait years to recover on the judgment at a time when your debtor is back on their feet? Are you willing to risk that they may never be in the financial position to do so?

OUR ADVICE - don't fold if you are willing to wait years for recovery on a true deadbeat.

So far, we've been talking about when to "fold 'em", that is, evaluate what cases are worth pursuing, and the mindset you need to have to pursue them. What about the "hold 'em" part?

If you have a high dollar case against a quality debtor, it goes without saying you should "hold 'em". We aren't really talking about that...

We are talking about holding on to your money in the first place.

There are genuine cases of cheating and fraud that leads to a civil judgment. Then, there are situations where prudence, instinct and common sense were ignored when making a financial transaction. This is where we all must really hold 'em in order to not find ourselves in the situation in the first place.

What you can do to "hold 'em":

1) Know your business or contractor.

Don't make any assumptions. Check with BBB and ask for references before committing money to someone you've never worked with before.

2) Read any contracts.

Understand what you're getting into before you sign anything.

3) Screen your renters.

Check with your local or state oversight board about provisions for "permissible purpose" in running credit reports on any potential renters. See our previous post on this subject.

4) Know who you're lending money to.

Just because your loanee is a friend or relative doesn't mean they will feel any more obligated to repay the loan, especially if you know your friend or relative is a deadbeat. Your money is not magic, and will not change a deadbeat into a standup citizen. If anything, you are making the situation worse by enabling the character to continue in their deadbeat ways, without having to suffer the consequences the rest of us face when we are careless with our finances.

Hopefully, a little common sense prevention will help all of us stay at the table, and come out the winner when "the dealin's done".

To visit our website -

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Thursday, January 11, 2007

Being a landlord in a debtor-friendly state is the pits...

We're in Texas, and this state is a landlord's worst nightmare. Our office gets calls daily from landlords needing financial recourse on their court judgments against former tenants. Unfortunately, of all the types of cases we deal with, these are the worst, and our company rarely accepts these types of cases for assignment.

Why? Because in Texas, judgment debtors really must own some sort of property for a judgment to be enforceable. But why are tenants renting in the first place? Because they don't own a home!

Landlords, don't assume that a court judgment will take care of everything should your tenant be delinquent. In Texas, there's a huge brick wall of debtor protections you'll have to scale:

  • NO wage garnishment
  • NO seizure of assets unless the debtor owns outright cumulative value of $30,000 ind. / $60,000 couple
  • NO including a home in that $$ figure if it has homestead exemption
  • NO home seizures, if that home is a primary residence
  • NO help from the courts in identifying assets or financial accounts

The best offense for landlords is a good defense. Protect yourself before you agree to rent:

  1. Before proceeding with the following, have a solid understanding of your state's statutues regarding landlord and renter's rights.
  2. Have a solid, comprehensive Renters Application in place. Obtain as much detail from potential renters as possible. Make sure you obtain references and employment information.
  3. With a Renters Application you have "permissible purposes" to pull a credit report on your debtor. DO IT. Believe what it tells you.
  4. Check all references. Double check them.
  5. Ask to see an employment pay stub.
  6. Check your local county regarding criminal records on your subject. Many times, they are free and online.
  7. If city, county or state laws allow you to pass on questionable renters regarding any of the above, all the better. If not, and you must rent to a potential deadbeat, only accept checks as payment. No cash, no money orders (we'll explain that one later).

Having said all this, what can be done on a landlord's judgment against a renter? In Texas, there are many protections on property. But bank accounts...not so much. A bank account can be quickly garnished after judgment, with few restrictions, to immediately enforce the judgment.

Thus, the advice on point #7. Upon receiving a court judgment, the landlord will need to immediately file a writ of garnishment on the bank account. But to do so, the landlord, must know the banking institution where the debtor banks. The court will not find that out for you, nor will they accept the garnishment if you don't know! The best way to know is to have recently cashed checks from your debtor. Easy, cheap, quick.

But, sometimes it's not that simple. The debtor changes accounts, the judgment is older and the debtor has moved, or maybe your debtor didn't cash checks at his bank... If that's the case, the landlord should have a bank account search performed by a reputable company. A banking institution name is usually sufficient for garnishment, but many times the landlord will also want to know balances and other information.

Bottom line for landlords with judgments - seizing bank accounts is usually your only recourse. And our company can help you find such accounts on your debtor(s). Please click the "JCS - Asset Search" tab to your right to learn more.

And secondly - don't despair if your case is not immediately recoverable. Time changes people and their fortunes. Take another look at your case 3, 5, 7 years from now. A judgment that is not recoverable now may be recoverable in the future.

Best wishes to all long-suffering Texas landlords! And visit us at to learn about our bank account and other asset search offerings.

Q & A about our Bank Account Search:

Q: Are you able to find more than one bank account with your bank account search?
A: Yes. By request, when choosing a #6 Enhanced Bank Account Search, we can locate more than one bank account.

Q: What are the costs associated with finding multiple bank accounts?
A: The price we quote on the website for a #6 Enhanced Bank Account Search - $329 - finds one bank account ($75 no hit fee, then $254 with a hit). For each additional account located, we charge $239 per hit. There are no more hit fees. The customer will need to specify how many accounts they want to be searched.

Q: Can you locate multiple accounts with your less expensive search (#5 Bank Accont Search).
A: Sorry, that search employs a different methodology. It finds only one account.

Q: What are your hit rates?
A: A #5 Bank Account search has hit rates between 30 - 40%; the #6 Enhanced Bank Account Search has hit rates between 70 - 80%.

Q: Why are there no hit fees to begin with? If there's an account, won't you find it?
A: Many persons do not understand the purpose of a bank account search. The search does not verify whether or not an account exists; it seeks to find the location of an existing account. This is an important distinction. If our company comes back from a search with a no hit, we are not saying an account does not exist. We are saying that we were unable to locate it. Our hit rates are stellar in the industry, and no provider will have a hit rate of 100%.

Q: I'd like to get a bank account search on my aunt Hilda, just because...
A: Sorry! We can't help you...nor should any one else. For individuals to access our asset search services, they must provide documentation which substantiates that they are in legal proceedings. Only attorneys and private investigators may use our asset search services without presenting evidence that they are in process of civil litigation.

See our website at, especially the FAQ and Asset Search sections.

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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Sorry, we're not John Wayne!

No, really. We aren't the Magnificent Seven, or Charles Bronson, or Stephen Segall.

When we do our work, we aren't "exacting vengeance". Or "hanging them high". Or "teaching them a lesson".

We' re just a company that collects judgments and performes asset searches.

Many individuals and business persons who call us are just plain mad. And, rightly so. They've been ripped off by a neighbor, colleague, friend, business partner, ex-loved one. They were mad enough to take those dirty rotten scoundrels to court. Now they've got their judgment, and by golly, they are going to "get back" at those people.

These are our most difficult customers. They don't mean to be. But they are, because it's impossible to accomplish what they really want. And that is - to have peace and emotional absolution in regards to their judgment debtor.

For these customers, we really must offer a reality check. Here we go:

1) Recovering your money is not like the "Gunfight at the OK Corral". We don't hunt people down and shoot them. Or "hang 'em high". That's not why we exist. We collect on civil judgments and provide research. That's all.

2) We cannot ensure that your debtor will feel "punished". We can't promise that they will "learn a lesson". We can't tell you that our processes forces them to cross over from darkness to light. Why? Because - this is an important life lesson - no one can control others. Not us, not you, not the law. Sure, you can subject your debtors to the law, but you can't change their minds, hearts or destiny. Period.

3) We can't promise your judgment or research will render the results you want. Your debtor may not own assets and/or live in a debtor-friendly state which makes the judgment difficult to collect at this time. Don't get mad at us if that's the case. It's not our fault!

4) We especially can't promise you that getting what you want from us will bring you peace of mind. Having peace about your current situation is a spiritual and emotional matter. It's not dependent on our success.

We can't tell you how many times we have made a successful discovery, or recovery, for an emotional client, only to have them turn on us because getting the recovery or successful research did not bring about the emotional consequences they wanted. They thought they would be happy. It didn't turn out that way.

At some point, before contacting us, a creditor needs to separate their emotions from their case. After a creditor has calmed down, our company will be happy to deal with the case, and the case only. We will strive to bring about the best possible resolution. The resolution will be strictly monetary in nature, and will hopefully help you deal with the financial (and not emotional) losses from your case.

But we cannot help you with the emotional issues. Those painful emotionals - the anger, hurt, betrayal, back-stabbing, lying, cheating, fraud - are best dealt with by looking inside oneself and/or talking to a trusted friend, counselor, spiritual advisor and/or God. Only by looking inside and/or gaining the insight from more appropriate sources can a person deal with the emotional issues that come with the judgment.

Because money - and our company - can't buy that kind of peace.

Friday, December 08, 2006

NEW! From Judgment Collection Specialists, Inc.

NEW and FASTER Bank Account Searches

Our customers have spoken, and we have listened. For months we have been refining our bank account searches. We have several exciting announcements.

FASTER CYCLE TIME !! #5 Bank Account Search

For our standard bank account search offering – offered at $179 – we are pleased to announce that our cycle time has improved from 60 days or more to 45 days (or less) to maximum 60 days.

Positive results that require more than a 60 day cycle time will be billed at ½ the hit charge.

NEW and FASTER Bank Account Search - #6 Enhanced Bank Account Search - Only $329

We are very pleased to announce a greatly enhanced Bank Account Search offering at a very competitive price. Our newest Bank Account Search - #6 Enhanced Bank Acount Search – offers these advantages:

-- 10 Day Turnaround
-- Bank Balances when over $100 {balanced under $100 are considered “no hit”}
-- Exact Names(s) on Account
-- Banking Branch where Account was Opened

NEW Asset Search - #8 – Ultimate Asset Search Package - Only $398 - $30 Discount off combined price

Our newest comprehensive package combines and discounts our two best packages for the Ultimate Asset Search Package:

New #6 Bank Account with 10 day turnaround PLUS #4 Enhanced Property Search
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For more information, visit us at:

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Pre-judgment collections & post-judgment recovery - two whole 'nother animals...

Our staff participated in an NACM Collections Teleconference, and my personal take was - the pre-judgment collections process is a whole ' nother animal from post-judgment recovery. The focus of the conference was - personal interaction with the debtor. As "Blog Master", I struggled to find even one point that applied directly to judgment recovery. I really couldn't.

Our firm has been extensively trained in - and goes out of its way to comply with - FDCPA, FCRA, GLBA, and applicable privacy law. But the reality is - we just don't have much personal interaction with the debtor. We work within the legal system, and many times, attorneys are involved, and they are the ones doing the talking for us.

In other words, we rarely, if ever, call the debtor and ask - "pretty please, will you pay off this judgment?"

We don't need to. After the judgment, the law does all the talking. This is a great advantage to pursuing a debt post-judgment.

Another difference is - collections is about getting a debt paid off right away. After judgment, hey, we've got all the way up to the state's statute of limitations to collect. That is, on average, 10 years. And those babies can, in most states, be renewed indefinitely...something debtors rarely think about when ignoring that court summons....

It's just too bad so many individuals and corporations give up on post-judgment debt, based on their pre-judgment collections experience. Creditors should continue to track their debtor's financial condition for each judgment they own, throughout its life cycle. We strongly recommend having asset searches performed on judgment debtors every 1 - 3 years. What's true for a debtor today will likely be different in 3, 5, or 7 years from now. (And all that time, the judgment is accruing interest...)

After all - post-judgment recovery is a whole 'nother animal from pre-judgment collections... and viva la difference!

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Poor Ziggy! He must have a judgment on his credit report!

Rarely do you find the subject of credit in the funny papers, but in today's "Ziggy", those of us who work in the world of credit and collections got a rare treat. In the one-panel cartoon, Ziggy is sitting across from a loan officer's desk. The loan officer says to him - "I'm afraid your credit report doesn't do you much credit!"

Every judgment creditor envisions himself sitting in the chair of that loan officer...and their debtor is Ziggy. In many a judgment creditor's mind, having their particular judgment listed on their debtor's credit report is the "magic bullet" that renders the debtor financially disabled until he or she satisfies the judgment.

Problem is - it rarely works that way. The equation is not as simple as: judgment on credit report + debtor who needs credit = satisfaction of judgment.

To understand why this tactic rarely works, the judgment creditor needs to walk a mile in the moccasins of both the credit manager, and the judgment debtor. They also need to understand how the law works.

From the credit manager's viewpoint: A judgment listed on a credit report is indeed a "red flag", giving the credit manager hard evidence that the applicant has not met a debt obligation, even to the point of legal action. In most cases, the applicant will be turned down for credit. But not all the time!

Why? Because the credit report is not a legal document! It has no enforcement power over the credit manager's decisions. It is not a legal document with the intended outcome of enforcing satisfaction of the judgment. It's only a reporting mechanism that allows credit managers to make informed decisions on whether to grant applicants credit with their financial institution. A credit manager is not legally bound to turn the applicant down if a judgment is on their credit report. It's not unheard of for judgment debtors to obtain credit if a credit manager determines other criteria outweigh the credit risk of the judgment.

From the debtor's viewpoint: Remember who you're dealing with. For most judgment creditors, the reason a judgment was pursued in the first place is because the debtor would not, or could not, meet their financial obligations. If they were really interested in paying what they owed, they would have already, or made a settlement out of court.

For the debtor who can, but won't pay, these types of debtors are often quite cunning and learn quickly how to fly under the radar. If they found a way to circumnavigate your collections efforts so far, they will find a way to circumnavigate the constraints of bad credit. A judgment on a credit report is not a "magic bullet" that suddenly changes the heart and mind of a stubborn delinquent debtor to gladly pay up on his obligations.

For the debtor who simply can't pay - take a number, please. Chances are lots of people need their money too, and their credit is already ruined. Having a judgment on their credit report certainly doesn't help their credit score, but their credit was probably bad anyway. A judgment on a credit report is not a "magic wand" that makes money appear, where there simply is none.

No magic wands. No magic bullets. Instead of banking on an unknown, put the law on your side. Know your rights as a judgment creditor. Pursue all the legal avenues of recovery. Don't leave the recovery of your judgment to the whims of some unknown, unforeseen credit manager, and the stubborn delinquent thumbing their nose at your court order because you haven't yet given it any teeth!