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Collecting Small Claims Court Judgments

Collecting small claims court judgments is not always simple or easy but using the information and tips here should increase your chances for success.

Although you are entitled to be paid after winning a judgment, the small claims court cannot collect it for you.

The First Collection Step: Certify the Judgment

If the losing party fails to pay you within 30 days, or according to the terms established by the judge, or an agreed-upon payment plan, you'll have to pursue collection of the judgment.

Start by notifying the court and the judge who heard your case so they can certify the judgment. You'll need to fill out a Satisfaction of Judgment - nonpayment form -which you can request a free copy here, or obtain one from the court clerk.

Once the judgment form is signed, it's entered on the judgment docket of the district court and thereafter you may seek to collect the judgment by garnishment, execution or other process.

Note: The judgment may also be entered on the judgment lien dockets in the superior court so be sure to get the new judgment docket number. If the person does not pay, you'll need it to pursue judgment recovery/collection.

Collecting the Judgment

If, after a reasonable number of days (20 or more) have passed and you have not received payment from the judgment debtor, you may need to pursue collection actions.

Before doing anything else, review the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act to learn about legal and illegal collection tactics.

Although, you are free to pursue all available debt collection methods, avoid harassing or annoying tactics and especially avoid threatening the judgment debtor or his or her family. Avoid, at all costs, the temptation to call the debtor's house to ask why he or she has not paid yet!

In some cases, collecting the debt may be as simple as asking the debtor to pay by mailing a payment request (demand) letter via certified mail.

First, get a copy of your judgment from the district court clerk, be sure the clerk numbers your case (may be needed at a later time). Make a copy to send to the debtor and keep the original for your records.

Second, send a certified or registered letter to the judgment debtor stating the amount of the judgment and demanding payment.

Note: If the judgment was obtained by default (that is, the defendant did not appear in court), then send your other copy of the judgment along with the payment demand letter. Also keep a copy of the demand letter for your records.

Unfortunately, collecting a small claims judgment or debt is not always as simple as sending a letter demanding payment. Often times you'll need to garnish the debtors' wages or bank accounts or attach some of his or her other assets. The cost to certify the judgment and certain costs for garnishment or attachment can be recovered from the judgment debtor as collection costs.

If you need to use stronger methods to enforce your small claims court judgment, see garnishment procedures.