How to Collect a Judgment in California
If you have recently won a money judgment in a California court case, sometimes the debtor cannot or will-not pay. Judgment enforcement is a state-specific and the laws governing a California collection are California laws. For example in small claims court, you must wait 30 days until the appeal time expires before being able to enforce. If an appeal was conducted and you won, the standard waiting period to collect is around 10 days following the appeal decision. Although the court does not collect the money for you, it issues orders indicating that you must collect from the debtor.
A judgment collection essentially deals with collecting a lump sum or series of payments from the debtor to pay back what the plaintiff is owed. If an individual or company has an agreement it was not fulfilled resulting in financial loss, the court can legally address the situation. Most cases are handled in small claims court due to the small amount owed. States have different payment ceilings with the average amount ranging from $5,000 to $10,000. To collect this money, you must take the debtor to court for a judgment. Once issued, you will receive legal documentation from the court indicating what you are entitled to receive.
There are many reasons to collect a judgment. The primary reason is so the plaintiff is paid the money they rightfully deserve based on the court’s decision. This could be child support payments, completing a loan, resolving a dispute between businesses or even be a landlord-tenant situation. While there are many different reasons, they all lead back to the rightful party being paid.
There are several options for collecting a judgment in California including, levy a bank account, garnish wages, perform a till tap levy or action a keeper levy.
Levy a Bank Account
Levying a bank account refers to taking the judgment from the debtor’s bank account. The steps are as follows:
Step One: Find the bank name and branch location of the debtor
Step Two: To gain authorization to levy a bank account, you must fill out and make three copies of the Writ of Execution (form EJ-130). Take these copies to the Clerk’s Office and have them issue an official Writ of Execution. The original copy is filed with the state, another copy is sent to the local sheriff to execute and the third copy is for your records.
Step Three: Once the paperwork is complete, contact the Sheriff’s Office to learn how to acquire a levying officer.
Step Four: Once an officer is assigned, provide information such as the name and address of the bank, account number (if known), name on the account and when to levy the account.
Step Five: The levying officer will then use the Writ of Execution as well as written instructions to complete a Notice of Levy (EJ-150) which will be delivered to the bank.
Step Six: Finally, the levying officer will collect the proceeds and distribute them to the creditor who will send them to you. There is usually a short delay associated with the distribution of monies.
Another option is to intercept up to 25 percent of the debtor’s wages if they are not self-employed, not subject to other garnishments, payments are taken sequentially, the debtor is not a federal employee or active military, their pay is above the poverty line or the pay is not for basic support. The steps for wage garnishment include:
Step One: Locate the debtor’s place of employment
Step Two: Fill out and make three copies of the Writ of Execution (EJ-130). Then, bring the copies to the clerk’s office and pay the fee. The writ expires after 180 days from the clerk’s issue date.
Step Three: Finish the Application for Earnings Withholding (WG-001).
Step Four: Go to the local Sheriff’s Office and provide them with the original Writ of Execution and they will complete an Earnings Withholding Order and Employer’s Return (WG-005).
Step Five: Once the Employer’s Return is completed, note the payment structure (monthly vs bi-weekly). If there are no objections from the debtor, the levying officer will gather the wages to satisfy the court-ordered judgment. If the employer fails to withhold the correct amount, they can be sued to recover the remaining balance.
Perform a Till Tap Levy
A till tap occurs when the levying officer visits a business and gathers all cash and checks in the register. This is a quick and easy way going after business receipts. In order to perform a Till Tap Levy, the following steps must be followed:
Step One: Locate the county levying officer by calling the local Sheriff’s Office and ask if they levy on civil money judgment. If they do not, find out who conducts the process. Next, call that location to determine the fees associated with a till tap, how to acquire the forms and the number of copies required.
Step Two: Provide the levying officer with instructions including when you expect the business to have a significant amount of cash on hand. Once the instructions are typed up, make the required number of copies and send them with the instructions and associated fees to the levying officer.
Step Three: In order to receive the money, the levying officer will follow your instructions and advise the results. Once the proceeds have been collected, they will be distributed to you. Keep in mind that a delay is common with the distribution.
Action a Keeper Levy
The final option is to issue a Keeper Levy which sends a sheriff’s deputy to a business for 4 to 8 hours in order to collect all cash and checks paid to the business. For a fee, the sheriff will stay at the debtor’s business and take all incoming funds until the court judgment is paid.
Step One: Have the name and business ready when you obtain a Writ of Execution (EJ-130) and Memorandum of Costs after Judgment Acknowledgment of Credit and Declarations of Accrued Interest (MC-012).
Step Two: The clerk will issue the paperwork and bring it to the sheriff.
Step Three: Instruct the sheriff to place a keeper on the business and pay the fees.
Step Four: The sheriff will visit the business during the instructed time period, collect the proceeds and distribute them accordingly.
Each of these processes end with the distribution of funds either in a lump sum or over the course of several months or years until the judgment is completely paid off. One of the four aforementioned options will be used depending on the reason for collection and from whom it is being collected (individual vs business).