How to collect a judgment

To collect, you'll need to know where they have money and then figure out the best way to collect it. As you go, keep track of what you spend trying to collect so you can ask to add it to the total they owe you.

1. Try to get them to pay voluntarily

Write them a letter or ask

You can write a letter that explains that the amount owed increases by 10% each year (collects interest). Let them know that what's owed can show up in public records and that you can collect it from their pay or bank account. Make sure they have an easy way to pay you. 

Consider taking less money or payments

You can offer to make a deal where you will accept less money if they pay you quicker or a lump sum. You can have something in writing about what you agreed to, but the creditor will want to beware that the agreement does not replace the judgment. They would have to file a lawsuit to enforce the agreement. A lawyer can help explain the risks.

If they pay, you must fill out and file an Acknowledgment of Satisfaction of Judgment with the court.

2. Find out what the other person earns and owns

If they don't pay you voluntarily, you'll need to find out more about where they get money, where they keep it, and if they have any other property. You also want to know who else they owe money to and if those creditors have liens on their property that are ahead of yours.  If you don't already know this information, you can ask for a court date where you can ask for this information. This is called a debtor's exam.

How to get debtor's exam

3. Decide how to collect

You can collect from their pay or bank accounts, or put a lien on their property. A lien is claim on their property like a bank loan on a vehicle or a deed of trust on a house.

You can try more than one of these things at the same time. There are many different legal options to enforce a judgment. The following are several of the more common ways to collect, but these are not the only ones.

If you know where the debtor works, you can try to collect money directly from their paycheck (called a wage garnishment or attaching their wages). You can start the process but the sheriff or other "levying officer" has to work with the employer to get the money. You can't do this yourself.

For the sheriff to do this, you first need to get a Writ of Execution from the court. This tells the sheriff to enforce your judgment (try to collect the money). Once you have a Writ, you'll then need to fill out more forms that say which employer to collect from.

Get Writ of Execution

You can try to collect money from banks where the judgment debtor has or may have a bank account or safe deposit box. This is called a bank levy. You can start the process but the sheriff or other "levying officer" has to work with the bank. You can't do it yourself.

For the sheriff to do this, you first need to get a Writ of Execution from the court. This directs the sheriff to enforce your judgment (try to collect the money). Once you have a Writ, you'll then need to fill out more forms that include written instructions to the sheriff that say where to collect the money. The sheriff does not enforce your judgment for you.  The sheriff only follow your instructions and the law.

Get Writ of Execution

If the person owns real estate, you can put a lien on their property. You are filing a form with the county to let the public know the person owes you money. A lien on a property makes it so that if that property is ever sold or refinanced, you may get paid. 

To get a lien, you first need an Abstract of Judgment. This is a written summary of what's owed in your case. It is issued by a court clerk. You can then record it in any county where the judgment debtor owns property or you think they own property. 

Get Abstract of Judgment


  • If a business owes you money, a sheriff can collect from their cash register (till tap), from customers who are coming into their store and paying them (keeper), or from tenants who are paying them rent (third party or account receivable levy). This last type of collection is better handled through an assignment order which requires a formal motion. Till taps and keeper levies are more expensive than wage garnishments or bank levies, but they can be very effective.
  • If the case is about their professional work or a car accident, you may be able to have their professional or driver’s license suspended.
  • If the other side has valuable property, like a piano or jewelry, you can ask for a judge to order that these get turned over to the sheriff for sale. It may not be worth it if the item has a loan on it. Also, some exemptions protect various amounts and types of property from enforcement.  And the sheriff’s fees for dealing with personal property and storing it pending a sale can add up. 

  • A house or land (real property) can be sold at sheriff’s auction.  This is complicated, and it takes more time than other enforcement processes. If it’s the residence of the debtor or their family then there are extra protections including a substantial homestead which protects equity in the property. The court is involved in a levy and sale of property that has a dwelling on it, regardless of who lives there.  If this makes sense for your case, see a lawyer.

To find out more about these and other ways to collect, check out resources at a public or law library or talk to a lawyer.

4. Keep track of what you spend trying to collect

Collecting any of these ways costs money. You may be able to have some or all of these costs added to what's owed. You can also add interest.

How to add costs and interest

Most judgments expire in 10 years. 

If it will take more than 10 years to collect, you will need to renew your judgment before 10 years is up so it doesn't expire. Family law judgments, like from a divorce, do not expire.

Let the court know if you end up getting paid the full amount

If they pay you the full amount, either voluntarily or through your collection efforts, you must let the court know right away. The debtor can also ask (demand) you do this. If you do not report you were paid to the court within 15 days of the debtor's demand, you may face a penalty ad be liable. You do this by filing an Acknowledgment and Satisfaction of Judgment

Collecting from the other side can be hard

Your court's Self-Help Center may be able to help. You can hire a lawyer to help you. You can assign your right to collect the money to a collection agency or judgment enforcer. Anyone working to help collect the judgment will change a fee.

Civil judgment collection

What's next?

  • If you want a bank levy or wage garnishment, your first is to get a court order that lets the sheriff take the money (called a Writ of Execution). Then, you'll need to fill out more forms for the bank or employer.
  • If you want to put a lien on their property, you will need to first get an Abstract of Judgment.
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