Dealing with a Judgment
- Removing a judgment from your credit reports
- Dismissing/disputing a judgment
- Vacating a judgment
If a creditor or collection agency has sued you then that results in a money judgment. A judgment wont guarantee that the creditor will be paid because he still has to hunt for your bank accounts and assets -- but if he knows where they are they can apply to seize them. This is a very stressful situation to be in because you are constantly worrying will today be the day my bank account gets hit, will the judgment creditor seize my car.
A money judgment acts as a security for the debt you owe, like how a house secures a mortgage or a car secures a loan. By placing a judgment against you the creditor can continue to monitor your assets to find an in to collect.
Hopefully, here we can show you some protection methods if you've got a judgment against you are worried about what will happen if you are sued. There may be several things you can do including fighting the judgment, vacating the judgment and settling the judgment out of court.
- Question the judgment
- Dismiss judgment via settlement
- Statute of limitations on judgments
- Vacate the judgment
STEPS TO FIGHT A JUDGMENT
Is the judgment legal?
When a debt is in collections and you are served with a lawsuit, you are given about 30 days to object to the filing if you have a cause. If you can prove that the debt is invalid you can get the hearing for the judgment dismissed. If you do nothing -- even if its invalid, it will be entered as a default judgment. For this reason you should never ignore the request for entry from the court. If you can prove its erroneous or has flaws, show and and prove it!
Maybe you were not properly served. Contact the courthouse and see what the file says about service. If you were improperly served then you could get the judgment set aside. The courthouse will charge you a small fee to send you copies or you can go in person. Some offer their records online now.
Additionally, if a collection agency has sued you without giving you the mandatory 30 day notice to dispute the validity of a debt then that is a violation of the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act. This could be used to ask that the court dismiss the judgment. There are certain restrictions to using the validation of debt under the FDCPA. You cannot use VOD on a judgment but if the collection agency or collection attorney never allowed you to dispute the debt upon receiving their first notice, then the judgment would be entered in error.
If the debt is yours and you know it, then you should contact the JC (judgment creditor) as soon as you are served and before the judgment is entered. You want to avoid the entry of judgment at all costs because it will simply ruin your credit. Call, fax or mail a request to the person suing you and offer a compromise to settle the debt in exchange of dismissing the case
Judgment on your credit reports
Question the judgment. Is the judgment still legally allowed to be on your credit reports? Look at the statute of limitations for judgments and if your state allows it to be renewed. Each state is different so yours may not allow for a renewal, which in that case you could get it off your credit reports because it's expired. Lots of people have successfully deleted a judgment from their credit reports because it was expired and there was no state law to allow it to be renewed.
Some states allow the judgment to be renewed so in essence the creditor could follow you around forever. It's best to tackle those by trying to negotiate the judgment or have it dismissed because it was invalid and you can prove it.
There are a number of circumstances that could allow you for you to get the judgment removed from your credit reports. Maybe the judgment creditor passed away -- like an old landlord or legal dispute will a friend or colleague. Maybe the original creditor went out of business.
Lots of finance companies and banks have folded in the past decade. Those could be removed because there is no way for them to be disputed. Maybe you were serving over seas and should have never been sued under the Soldiers and Sailors Act. Maybe you were on SSI or permanently disabled, or perhaps the case numbers dont match up between the credit bureaus and the court house. You get the idea... Consider the angles to determine if the judgment is able to be removed.
Negotiate the judgment; dont just pay it
If the judgment has been verified as timely and you have no other documentation to prove it is not, then you can negotiate with the JC to dismiss the judgment in exchange for money. This is a much better rating than a "satisfied judgment". It tends to indicate that it was dismissed therefore "legally void". This IS a better rating than showing you simply paid it- that means you owed it. Not much of a credit improvement.
Make sure when you negotiate with the JC that you put your terms in writing and have the JC sign and date it. This can be used for proof later if the rating doesn't change on your credit reports. Once you agree, the JC will complete a form called dismiss the judgment and file it with the court. All public records are reported to credit bureaus so you should see your new rating in about 30 to 45 days. A dismissed judgment is very different than a satisfied judgment. Remember that.
Vacating a judgment
There is a procedure called a "motion to vacate" a judgment. This procedure can be used if you have good cause to believe you were sued in error, were exempt because of retirement or SSI or served improperly. When you were served you should have been notified with plenty of time to file a response. If you weren't then that could be an improper service and cause to have it set aside or vacated.
The important thing to remember is how is the judgment allowed to be processed in your state. While one may allow service by mail, another may not. If the rules were not followed and you can find a flaw then that could lead to vacating the judgment. Search Google for "judgments +your state". Maybe you'll uncover some other ideas that people in your state have come up against or a forum discussing illegal judgments that applies to you.
The great news is that about 70% of judgments are awarded in error - you just have to know what to look for. Getting the judgment vacated means it does not stay on your credit and you do not have to pay it, so if you think you have a good case for a vacate motion then by all means seriously consider pursuing it.
You can attempt to vacate the judgment yourself or use a lawyer, its up to you.. If you do not know a lot about it, you are better off hiring a lawyer for a few hundred dollars. Remember to be careful and educate yourself about any issues where the law is concerned. The Internet gives us unlimited access to legal links and opinions where you can fully research the topic before moving forward. One thing to keep in mind when you decide to attempt to vacate or dispute a judgment is putting yourself on the creditors radar. You dont want to point them in your direction if they've left you alone for a number of years.
Statute of limitations on judgments
The statute of limitations (SOL) on judgments is long--very long, usually 12 to 20 years and many are renewable (a judgment may be renewed if the creditor files a new suit seeking to renew the judgment prior to the expiration of the original judgment) therefore the judgment could follow you around forever. Even if you pay it you will be stuck with a 'satisfied judgment" for 7 years from date satisfied not filed! This can be a hopeless situation so avoid being sued at all costs.
Be sure to always check your SOL for debts if you have been served because if it is expired (and many debts expire in 4-6 years) you can use that to dismiss the case. Many debtors are served everyday for debts and they simply do not show up in court and a default judgment is entered against them - big mistake! Had half of them simply checked their SOL they would have found that the debt may have expired years before, but since they did not dispute this, the judgment was awarded. You can use an expired SOL as a solid defense in court against a creditor/collector to stop a judgment.
If you are sued never let a default judgment be entered
You have nothing to lose by disputing the validity of the judgment or even settling it out of court to avoid that nasty record landing on your credit reports. Even if you owe the debt and it is not legally expired under the SOL - and you have no claim to vacate it - you should attempt to settle it out of court--- before the court date so that it can be set aside.
All the JC wants is their money so calling them to work out a settlement is the only smart thing to do. Otherwise you may be forced to pay it later through wage levy or asset liens, not to mention the damage it will have done to your credit reports.
Video: this video discusses how to vacate a judgment with the courts step by step.