If a creditor sues you and gets a judgment, it has a whole host of collection methods available to get its money from you, including wage attachments, property levies, assignment orders, and more. Fortunately, in many situations you can still take steps to try to head off collection efforts. Read on to learn how to prevent a judgment creditor from taking your income or property. (Learn what collection methods judgment creditors can use in How Judgment Creditors Enforce Judgments.)
Here are some ways you can head off a creditor’s collection attempts.
It’s never too late to negotiate. The process of trying to grab property to pay a judgment can be quite time-consuming and burdensome for a judgment creditor. Also, the creditor might fear that you’ll lose or quit your job due to a wage attachment, or that you’ll file for bankruptcy. None of that would help the creditor get paid.
A judgment creditor who receives a reasonable offer to pay will often stop a lien, levy, wage attachment, garnishment suit, or assignment order. (For tips on negotiating with creditors, see Strategies for Negotiating With Creditors.)
You might consider contacting a debt counseling agency for help in negotiating and setting up a repayment plan. Unfortunately, credit and debt counseling scams abound. Take precautions when looking for a legitimate debt counseling agency.
Most important, just because a judgment creditor levies on your property or attaches your wages, it doesn’t mean that the creditor is entitled to take the property. Every state exempts certain property from creditors. This means that creditors simply cannot have that property, no matter how much you owe. In addition, you might be able to keep property that isn’t exempt if you can prove to the court that you need it to support yourself or your family.
In most states, your clothing, furniture, personal effects, and public benefits can’t be taken to pay a debt. Nor can some of the equity in your car and house, most of your wages, and most retirement pensions. (Learn more about Using Exemptions to Protect Property From Judgment Creditors.)
Any time the sheriff or marshal levies against your property, you must be notified. You can request a hearing, which is usually called something like a claim of exemption hearing, to argue that it will be a financial hardship on you if the property is taken, or that your property is exempt under state law. If you lose that hearing and your wages are attached, you can request a second hearing if your circumstances have changed, causing you hardship (for example, you have sudden medical expenses or must make increased support payments).
In most states, you cannot request a claim of exemption to protect your wages if your debt was for basic necessities, such as rent or mortgage, food, utilities, or clothing. The law says that you should pay for your necessities, even if you suffer a hardship in doing so.
Still, you can request a claim of exemption hearing if the debt (now part of the judgment) was for a basic necessity. The creditor may not challenge your claim. Or, the judge might not care whether the debt was for a basic necessity and may consider only whether or not you need the money to support your family.
To get an overview of how a claim of exemption hearing normally works, see How to File a Claim of Exemption.
If you need more information about exemptions or want help with a hearing, consider talking to a lawyer.