How Do Judgment Creditors Find Your Property?

If you have a money judgment against you, the creditor has various ways to find your assets and then collect against them.

By , Attorney · Northwestern University School of Law

If a creditor successfully sues you in court and gets a money judgment against you, it will likely look for your assets and property. Once it finds your property, it can take steps to try to collect its judgment from that property. For example, it could record a lien against your home, levy funds in your bank account, or force the sale of an expensive boat.

You might think your property is safe because the creditor doesn't know you own it. But the reality is this: Creditors have good—and perfectly legal—ways to find out what property you own. Below are some of the methods that judgment creditors use to find your assets.

Information You Previously Provided to the Creditor

One of the best sources of asset information available to the creditor is you. In the course of applying for or dealing with the creditor, you probably gave the creditor information about your assets.

Credit and Loan Applications

When you apply for credit cards, car loans, bank loans, or other types of loans or credit, you have to fill out an application. On that application, you often must provide bank account information, the name and address of your employer, and information about your assets. If that information hasn't changed, the creditor will know where to send a wage garnishment order, what bank to contact to attach funds in your bank account, and whether you own a home.

Your Last Payment to the Creditor

Smart judgment creditors keep information from your last payment. If you paid by check, the creditor will know what bank you use and what your account number is.

Information About Your Real Estate

It's fairly easy for judgment creditors to find information about real estate you own, especially if the property is in a county near where you live. Real estate records are available to the public, and often searchable online.

Information About Cars and Boats

In many states, if the creditor has a judgment against you, the Department of Motor Vehicles will provide it with information about your registered vehicles. Although, the creditor might have to pay a fee. Also, if liens are filed against your personal property, such as a boat, those liens are often recorded with the Secretary of State or sometimes with the county, and are usually public record.

The Debtor's Examination

Once it has a judgment, a creditor may serve you with notice of a debtor's examination. The notice will order you to appear at a specific place at a certain time and testify, under oath, about your assets. If you don't show up, the court could hold you in contempt of court and issue a warrant for your arrest. A creditor that's serious about collecting from you can hold a debtor's examination and question you about all sorts of assets and income that you might have.

Typical Questions

The creditor will likely ask you about real estate, bank accounts, vehicles, stocks and bonds, personal property, employment information, residence information, and more.

Required Documents

The creditor can also require that you bring certain types of documents to the examination, like tax returns, bank statements, business records, deeds, and leases.

Talk to a Lawyer

If you're concerned about a debtor's examination or if you have questions about any aspect of debt collection, consider talking to a qualified attorney. Your lawyer can explain both your legal rights and your legal obligations when it comes to dealing with debt.

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