Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Collecting California Judgments

Going to court is only the first step in collecting the money owed to you. It is up to the judgment creditor to actually enforce the judgment. There are a number of methods available to help us collect your judgment.

Voluntary Payment: Even after we have obtained the judgment, we can still make payment arrangements with the debtor. Recent experience has shown that some judgment debtors will voluntarily pay to clear the judgment from their credit rating.

Abstract of Judgment: This document is issued by the court clerk for a fee of $15.00. Also referred to as a judgment lien on real property, it creates a lien and clouds title to any real property owned by the debtor within the county in which it is recorded, including houses, condominiums, vacant land and even timeshares. The judgment debtor cannot sell or refinance the property without negotiating with the creditor or paying off the lien.

Judgment Lien on Personal Property: This is particularly useful when the debtor owns a business. When filed with the Secretary of State, this document creates a lien on accounts receivable, equipment, farm products, inventory and negotiable documents of title. It can make it difficult for the debtor to obtain credit after this document has been filed and served. The filing fee is $20.00.

Writ of Execution: This document is issued by the court clerk for a fee of $15.00. It tells the Marshal or Sheriff how much to collect on the judgment. A Writ of Execution is required for most judgment enforcement procedures such a wage garnishment or bank account seizures.

Bank Account Levy: Upon delivery of the Writ of Execution, written instructions and a fee of $30.00, the Sheriff will issue a Notice of Levy which freezes the bank accounts of the judgment debtor. However, the Marshal or Sheriff must go to the branch where the account is held in order to properly levy on the account. Information provided by the client such as a photocopy of a check from the debtor can often lead to collection of the judgment using a bank levy. In one recent case, our office obtained bank account information from a private investigator at a cost of less than $200 and our client was able to collect more than $14,000 of a $17,000 debt.

Earnings Withhold Order: Also called a wage garnishment, the Sheriff will notify the employer to withhold money from the debtor's pay check. The Sheriff's fee for this service is only $25.00 and the employer can withhold up to 25% of the debtor's net pay. In one case, our office started a wage garnishment on behalf of a client. The Sheriff served the Earnings Withholding Order on a Tuesday. The judgment debtor immediately delivered a cashier's check to the Sheriff on the following Monday to pay off the judgment.

Rent Garnishment: If we obtain information that a third party owes money to the judgment debtor, we can make arrangements to collect that debt directly. A common example is a rent garnishment. If the debtor owns a rental property, we can send the Sheriff to collect the rent directly from the tenant as a payment toward the judgment.

Till Tap/Keeper Levy: If the debtor owns a business, the Sheriff can take money directly from the cash register, which is commonly called a till tap. For larger judgments, the Sheriff can leave a "keeper" in charge of the business for up to 8 hours. The "keeper" will collect all the cash and checks that come into the cash register for that day and can also prevent credit card transactions. This can be particularly useful in collecting judgments against businesses such as a retail store or a restaurant.

Vehicle Levy: In extreme cases, we can even have the Sheriff seize the judgment debtor's car and have it sold at auction. This can be very expensive and is better suited for large judgments.

Asset Investigation: Once an asset is identified, we can move aggressively to collect and sell the asset. The most difficult part is locating the asset. We have connections with numerous private investigators that will perform asset searches for as little as $200. We also have access to numerous computer databases to gather information on a judgment debtor. Our investigators can to the person's neighbors and find out where the debtor works. Every bit of information will help us to be successful in collecting your judgment.

About the Author: Carl H. Starrett II has been a licensed attorney since 1993 and is a member in good standing with the California State Bar and the San Diego County Bar Association. Mr. Starrett practices in the areas of bankruptcy, business litigation, construction, corporate planning and debt collection.


Anonymous said...

This is a great informative article, thank you for letting the Credit & Collections group know about it!
Michelle Dunn

Anonymous said...

Carl -
I'm in the "judgment collection community" in California and enjoyed reading your informative article. I think it will help a lot of people know just what they can and cannot do. By the by, you didn't mention "Orders of Assignment" and how they can be used to obtain payment on judgments from JDs who receive payment for work via commissions (e.g., real estate sales personnel).

Kenneth A. Caspary
Western Judgment Recovery Services
(aka WJR Services)

Carl Starrett said...

I debated whether or not to include assignment orders and that topic is probably worthy of a follow up article. The problem with assignment orders is they typically require a noticed motion and the hearing date will usually be at least 4-6 weeks away. Judges are sometimes reluctant to issue an assignment order on an ex parte basis. You can create a lien on commissions by serving the third party with a funds levy or an examination order.

Assignment orders are better suited for periodic payments or or the debtor's interest in property for which there is no method of levy such as a partnernship interest. They tend to be time consuming and expensive.

Anonymous said...


Thank you for all your great advise! It's nice to know that we can always depend on you to answer any questions we have regarding the legalities of collection issues, and much, much more!

To Your Continued Success!
Donna Vestre

Anonymous said...

Great info. Question: If you levy on a bank account in California but the Judgment Debtor now lives in another state that also has branches of the same bank, is the levy still valid?

Thank you,
Colleen Berger

Carl Starrett said...

A California judgment can only be enforced against assets in California. Technically, you should not be able to serve a branch in California if the account is held at an out-of-state branch. Sometimes the bank might comply and turn over the money anyway.

The best option is to register the judgment in the state where the debtor lives now and use the laws of that state. That way, there is no question regarding the validity of any levy performed on that state.

Anonymous said...

Is it possible to do a wage garnishment on a debtor's spouse? We have a judgment on someone who doesn't work but his wife does. The judgment was issued after they were married. Also, can you garnish pensions? Any info you have would be appreciated. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I have a abstract of judgement for the amount of $24,000 ordered in 2006. The individual that owes me this money served a 2 yr prison sentence and is currently on parole for one year total. I have tried to talk to his parole agent about his status on paying me and she(parole agent), just has given me the run a round for the past 5 months that he is on parole. What i have found out is that he is being taken cared of by his parents, he lives in a luxury aparent, doesn't work, eats, sleeps, and has yet to pay one penny. He is an adult, so what can I do about collecting my judgment.

Anonymous said...

Is there a difference between a court order for money owed and a judgment. If they differ, does one have to convert the court order into a money judgment?

Anonymous said...

The section about the till tap/keeper; is there a place in the civil code where one can find this information? And is there a technical term for the "Keeper"?

Carl Starrett said...

The term "keeper" is the proper legal jargon and you can find it at California Code of Civil Procedure Section 700.070.

Anonymous said...

Till taps/back levies...what next revisiting debtor's prisons? I thought this was America. This may be excusable, legally speaking, but not justifiable, for those hiding while having the means, and not paying. But, like most social problems encountered, the poor and less fortunate will be the ones disproportionately affected by these 'executive means'. After all, they rely more heavily on their money from one pay period to another and are more greatly affected by changes in their income/debt ratios. Are we willing to allow people to go hungry or fail to provide a roof over their heads so we can collect a measly $2500? These actions give not only the legal community a bad name, but place the judicial system and law enforcement in extremely bad light as well. Besides, does anyone understand that if the debtor was unable to pay in the first place then should future collection attempts prove more fruitful? Isn’t this the definition of insanity? But, does anyone care? The answer lies in my previous question. What is $2500 worth? This, my friends, is the difference between a civil society and a society on the verge of collapse and civil unrest. If you allow people to take advantage of the less fortunate, and face it they are not a minority, problems are certain in that society’s future. Sorry for the soap box tirade, but that’s the philosopher in me….thanks for reading...


Voting with your feet! said...

"Dear At 7:52 AM, Anonymous",
Just so you know, every state has a set of laws allowing the debtor to appeal on the grounds that the confiscated money is needed for living expenses and should be returned. Each state goes into great detail about what amount is allowed to be exempted from the collection. When a Sheriff conducts a levi or till tap, there is usually a 14 to 30 day period where the money is not distributed to the Judgment Creditor, allowing the Debtor to appeal to the court and get money that's necessary for basic living expenses returned to them.
Also, a till tap is only done on businesses, not individuals.
Perhaps knowing that the legislation has already been put in place to mitigate your very concerns will give you some relief.

Cheers... in return

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...
Is there a difference between a court order for money owed and a judgment. If they differ, does one have to convert the court order into a money judgment and how is it done?

Anonymous said...

If I have a judgment against a business, can I go after them personally, or the spouse,

Anonymous said...


I have situation where JD is prohibiting bank levy from being executed by filing 3rd party claims w/ Sheriff. Aside from filing bond for each claim (at $10K/claim!) and Decl stating why 3rd party claims don't have priority, is there anything else I can do so levy can be executed?

Unknown said...

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