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Before obtaining a court judgment, a bill collector generally has only one way of getting paid: asking. This is done with calls and letters.
However, once the collector (or creditor) sues you and obtains a court judgment, the law allows it to take further steps to collect the debt. The collector can:
Even if you're not currently working or have no property, the judgment won't disappear. Depending on the state, court judgments can last up to 20 years. In many states, it can be renewed for years beyond that.
To learn more about what creditors can and cannot do when collecting debts and judgments, get Solve Your Money Troubles: Debt, Credit & Bankrupty, by Robin Leonard and Margaret Reiter (Nolo).