How To Collect From A Judgement Debtor: Wage Garnishments, Bank Levys & Property Liens

Written by Jeff Lancaster
January 26, 2015

Get The Money You’re Owed Faster & Safer

In California, the loser of a court case is required to file paperwork detailing his or her properties. The judgment debtor then sends a duplicate of this information to the winning party, or the judgment creditor, within a specific time frame after the judgment is mailed out by the court clerk.

Unless the judgment debtor settles the judgment or requests the court for an extension, you can ask the court to hold the debtor in contempt of court or issue a bench warrant for his or her arrest if the judgment debtor doesn’t complete the declaration in time.

In the event the judgment debtor fails to file a Declaration of Possessions form, you could ask the court clerk to release an order requiring the judgment debtor to show up in court to answer questions. This is called an application and order for appearance and examination or judgment debtor’s assessment.

This order, which must be served on the judgment debtor, calls for the debtor to appear in court and provide the necessary information directly. If the debtor fails to appear, the judge can then release a bench warrant for the person’s arrest to ensure they show up in court.  The service must be completed by a Registered and Bonded Process Server and be completed by Personal Service only.

Three Ways To Collect Your Judgment

  1. Garnishing Earnings - The first way to collect your judgment is through a wage garnishment.  To get started, you’ll need to know where the judgment debtor works.  If you don’t know this information, a process server can help you find out.  Generally, you are entitled to garnish roughly 25% of the judgement debtor’s net earnings until their financial obligations are resolved unless the individual’s earnings are lower than the legal threshold.
  2. Levying a Bank Account - To start a bank levy, you’ll first need to determine where the judgment debtor banks.  Again, you can hire a process server to help you figure this out and to serve the necessary paperwork to the proper parties.   Your bank levy will start as soon as the judgment debtor’s bank is served and will continue until their obligation is paid or they open a different bank account.
  3. Real Estate Liens - Another way to enforce a cash judgment on an individual or business against which you have recently won a small claims judgment against is by placing a lien on property owned by the debtor. The filing of a court judgment immediately produces a lien on any real estate the debtor possesses in the county where the judgment was won or other counties if you file the necessary paperwork.

Writ of Execution

Before you can levy an individual’s income or property, you must get court permission through a writ of execution or writ of garnishment. Some courts may require that you file an application for the writ. If you win a small claims judgment, you are entitled to a writ, which you can get from the court clerk for a small charge which you can recover in your judgement.

Once the court files your writ, you’ll need to hire a process server in the county where the possessions are situated to serve the judgement debtor and provide them with:

  • The original writ along with a couple copies for the process server’s needs. Keep a copy of the writ for yourself.
  • The fees for serving your paperwork.  Call ahead to ask or check their website for prices.
  • Specific directions on what paperwork to serve and who to serve, including relevant addresses, schedules and photographs.

Do not delay in serving a writ of execution as they can expire if not served on the debtor within the timeframe ordered by the court. If your write expires, you will need to go back to the court clerk and have another writ of execution issued. It’s best to wait to file your writ of execution until you know exactly what property you wish to collect upon.

To garnish a person’s wages, you will need to supply a copy of the writ of execution to the process server in the county where the debtor lives, as well as a letter of intent. The process server will then serve a wage withholding order on the debtor’s employer. This earnings withholding order typically lasts for a set period of time, such as 90 days, or until the judgment is completely satisfied or expires.

To levy a bank account, work with the process server to make sure they handle this work properly and on time.  You’ll need the original copy of the writ, as well as several copies, a letter of instruction and the appropriate fees. If a checking account is jointly held by the debtor and another person, you may need to post an additional bond.

Not all cash in a debtor’s savings account is available for levy.  Usually, about 75% of money in a savings account are exempt for a full 30 days after repayment, and usually protects social security income, certain pensions, and college savings.

Recovering Your Collection Costs

You can be compensated for most of– if not all of — the expenses relevant to collecting your judgment. Typically, you can recuperate expenses like: process server fees, costs to obtain copies of required court papers and fees for submitting liens against a debtor’s property.

Other costs you may not be able to recover include babysitting, lost wages, transportation, and printing and postage costs.

You are also entitled to accumulate interest on your judgment based on your specific state’s laws. Interest starts to build up on the date the judgment was entered into and continues until judgement is collected or your write expires.

[tabs slidertype=”top tabs”] [tabcontainer] [tabtext]Assembly Bill 2364[/tabtext] [tabtext]Electronic Writ Statement[/tabtext] [/tabcontainer] [tabcontent] [tab]On January 1, 2013, Assembly Bill 2364 (AB 2364) took effect in California. AB 2364 provided authority for financial institutions to designate a “central location(s)” for service of process. AB 2364 also provides authority for a financial institution that designates a central location for service of process to not accept service at any branch of the financial institution not designated as a “central location” for service of process. If the financial institution has designated a “central location” for service of process, and the financial institution has also elected to not accept service of process at a branch not designated as a “central location” for service of process, then service at a non-“central” branch location will not be considered effective service of process. Prior to submitting instructions to the process server, it is the creditor’s responsibility to determine the correct address for service upon the financial institution. If the financial institution has designated a “central location,” it may be necessary for the creditor to request service of process through a process server for the county where the “central location” is located.[/tab] [tab]Effective January 1, 2014, pursuant to the revisions made to the Code of Civil Procedure section 687.010 by Assembly Bill 1167, and in particular the addition of sub-section 687.010(e)(4): If the instructions directing the levying officer to perform a levy are accompanied by a writ of execution for money, possession, or sale of personal or real property issued by the court as an electronic record, as defined in subdivision (b) of Section 263.1, or a document printed from an electronic record issued by the court, the instructions shall include a statement indicating that the accompanying writ is either of the following: • An original writ, or a copy of an original writ issued by the court as an electronic record, not already in the possession of the levying officer. • A copy of the original writ already in the possession of the levying officer. If the process being requested includes instructions submitted on the JPL Process Service instructions (for a levy or eviction) or if submitting an Application for Earnings Withholding Order, you can use the Electronic Writ Statement Pursuant to CCP 687.010(e)(4) form to make the electronic writ statement. If a levy (other than a real property levy) service is being requested and the instructions submitted are not on the JPL Process Service instructions, the electronic writ statement should be included within the instructions being submitted or you can use the Electronic Writ Statement Pursuant to CCP 687.010(e)(4) form to make the electronic writ statement. [/tab] [/tabcontent] [/tabs]

To get started, call our Orange County process servers at (866) 754-0520 today.  We’re here to answer any of your questions and help you collect your judgment order faster and safer.


Jeff Lancaster

Jeff Lancaster

Hi, my name is Jeff and I run JPL Process Service with my partner Rich, a few of our family members and the most dedicated crew of process servers anywhere.


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