If You Have A Judgment Ask For Your Money First
ASSUMING YOU HAVE WAITED long enough to reduce or eliminate the possibility of the debtor appealing your judgment remind the debtor that the judgment is due. Depending on the circumstances, you can do this with a brief letter or phone call. If the debtor is likely to greet a phone call angrily or is a business with which you have no personal contact, send a letter.
- Sometimes, a judgment debtor’s property is in the possession of third parries. Other times a judgment debtor has no property or income which can be legally collected.
- Whenever you have a conversation with the judgment debtor, make a note of when the call was made and what was said. This type of documentation can be valuable if the debtor later accuses you of harassment.
The debtor should know about the judgment. Even if the judgment was obtained by default, the debtor received a notice of it in the mail. However, in our experience, the debtor will not always know the amount of the judgment, maybe because the debtor wants to avoid the situation and didn’t read the court papers carefully. Thus, a reminder does three important things:
- lets the debtor know you are serious in you efforts to collect
- informs the debtor exactly what is owed under the terms of the judgment and
- opens a channel of communication with the debtor, so you can try to work something out without legal enforcement procedures.
Don’t have overly high expectations that your first contact will produce immediate payment. It’s unlikely unless you are dealing with a reputable business or individual who refuses to pay before judgment because of a genuine dispute concerning the merits of your claim. Most debtors who have ignored your previous efforts to work things out, or have gone back on numerous promises to pay, will probably continue the pattern. It’s best to view the reminder as simply an opening gambit in the negotiation process. You are notifying the debtor that you would like to work out a payment arrangement. Your tone should be firm, yet polite.
For example, if the debtor is a small local business, relative or someone else you know personally, you might make a call that goes something like this: “Hello, (Mr. Samuel)… As you probably know, I recently got a judgment against you in court for ($1500.00)… I’m calling to make arrangements for you to pay it off.”
If the debtor is willing to talk to you, try to pin him down on what he’s willing to do for example, make full payment in the near future, make a series of installment payments, engage in batter or agree to some other arrangement satisfactory to you. If the debtor tries to put you off, come back with a counter-offer, such as, “I will accept part now and the rest in a post-dated check that I can cash in two weeks,” or “How about a $300 payment each month, with the first check dropped by my office today?” Except in unusual circumstances, insist on being paid at least some money now, even though the debtor gives you a song and dance about having no money. Even a small payment starts the payment process and thus gets the judgment debtor to decide that, yes, he/she will pay you the money he/she owes you. Getting a debtor over this psychological hump is extremely important.
depending on the situation, you may wish to ruffle the debtor’s feathers a little at this point and suggest that you “really don’t want to start formal collection methods.” However, it’s often better, during your first contact, to see if a softer approach works. There will be time enough for heaviness later, if necessary.
If you write rather than telephone, consider adding a statement that you’d like to settle this amicably. If you are aware the debtor is having personal or financial problems that make immediate payment if full difficult, you may want to say that you are willing to take this into consideration if the debtor will get in touch with you promptly and work out a payment plan in good faith.