5 Steps How to Collect a Judgment in Pennsylvania.
Published on by Noah Paul Fardo
This article will help readers understand the five (5) steps necessary for how to collect a judgment in Pennsylvania. A judgment is a legal determination by the courts that money is owed from one party to an other. Even if you win a lawsuit, you can not collect the money until a Praecipe to enter judgment is actually filed with the courts. This article is to help you decide what to do after obtaining the judgment.
Step 1: File your Judgment (in any and all counties where the debtor resides or owns property).
Step 1 to collect a judgment in Pennsylvania is to file the judgment IN EACH COUNTY where the debtor resides or owns real property. Real property means a house or land. There are 67 different counties in Pennsylvania, and it is important to actually domesticate your judgement in each and every county which the debtor owns property. This will often require a credit report or proper background search to investigate what the debtor(s) actually own.
The reason that you need to domesticate a judgment in each county is because judgments in Pennsylvania act as an automatic lien against real property, but only if properly filed in that county. This means that the debtor can not sell their property without satisfying the judgment first. These judgment liens on property are valid for twenty (20) years. However, if you file your judgment in Allegheny County, and the debtor owns property in Beaver County, it would not act as a lien, unless of course the judgment was also filed in that respective county.
Although a judgment may act as a lien against real property for twenty (20) years, you cannot seek to execute on your judgment unless it is revived every five (5) years. Therefore, we strongly encourage creditors to also revive their judgments every 5 years when possible. This can be done by filing a revival of judgment with the department of court records.
Also, be careful about magistrate judgments. Magistrate courts are the lowest court system in Pennsylvania, and allow money judgments up to $12,500.00. However, Magistrate judgments are not always identified by credit reporting agencies and will often not show on credit reports. Thus, you may have a judgment that is NOT acting as a lien. If you have a magistrate judgment, you should also always file the judgment with the county courts where the debtor resides or owns property. You need to make sure the judgment is filed with each and every county court where the defendant may own property or assets.
Step 2: File a “Writ of Execution”.
Step 2 to collect a judgment is to file with the department of court records a praecipe for a writ of execution.
Once the judgment is filed, you can ask the department of court records to issue a “Writ of Execution”. This writ of execution is then taken to the sheriff’s office. The writ authorizes the sheriff’s office to take certain action to collect the monies against the debtor. When you file a writ of execution you are then directing the sheriff to take some additional action concerning the judgment.
These actions consist primarily of:
- Seizing a bank, credit union or monetary account; (this will require specific directions concerning the bank or garnishee)
- Selling personal assets, and/or vehicles; (one again, requiring a specific location to VIN #) and/or
- Selling a house, land or real property.
These are generally the most often used instructions associated with Writs of Executions directed to the Sheriff’s office.
Step 3. Seize Bank Accounts.
Step 3 to collect a judgment is to seize money from banks or third parties who may owe the debtor money.
To seize a bank account in Pennsylvania, you must take the following steps:
- Enter the judgment;
- Obtain a writ of execution;
- Deliver the writ of execution and “interrogatories to the garnishee” to the sheriff; and
- Have the sheriff serve the writ of execution and interrogatories to the garnishee.
The garnishee is the bank or other party who may have money owed to them from the debtor.
The “interrogatories to the garnishee” are a legal pleading asking the bank whether or not they are holding any money of the debtor.
The best part about seizing bank accounts is that the debtor’s accounts are immediately frozen once the sheriff serves the writ of execution. You should note that marital bank accounts are exempt from attachment. The garnishee (most often the bank) is required to answer the interrogatories within 30 days. This should specifically inform you as to whether or not the debtor actually has money at that bank. If they do, the bank should release the money voluntarily (less $300 statutory exemption). if the bank does not release the monies, then the creditor can actually enter judgment against the garnishee and follow the same execution procedures against the garnishee.
Step 4. Have the Sheriff Levy and Sell Assets and Vehicles.
In addition to seizing bank accounts, you can also have the sheriff levy and sell assets to collect a judgment in Pennsylvania.
The procedures are similar to seizing a bank account.
- Enter the judgment;
- Obtain a writ of execution;
- Deliver the writ of execution and “sheriff direction forms” to the sheriff; and
- Have a sheriff serve the writ of execution.
With personal assets, the sheriff serves the writ of execution and then takes an inventory of all assets to set for a sale. The procedure is called a levy. Once the levy is performed, it is illegal for the debtor to remove any of the items listed and can face criminal charges if they do. This includes any levy taken on personal assets and/or vehicles.
The sale of the assets is usually scheduled within a few weeks of the levy. If no one shows at the sheriff sale, then the creditor can bid the amount of the costs as an offer for the assets. You can also collect a judgment by seizing vehicles in the same procedure. Most of the time assets are levied, debtors try to resolve the debt, but if they do not and the execution actually moves forward to sheriff sale, then the creditor needs to be prepared (usually with a large van or truck) to take possession of any and all assets which were levied on.
When executing on vehicles, you can pay the sheriff extra (about $150) to tow the car at the moment they do the levy, rather than setting a sale date. This is usually a good idea.
Step 5. Force a Sheriff Sale of any Land or Real Property Owned by the Debtors.
Finally, you can collect a judgment in Pennsylvania by forcing a sheriff sale of the defendants real property.
This is significantly more costly than seizing a bank account or levying on personal property (est. $2,000 to $3,000 more in court costs). Each of the 67 counties in Pennsylvania have different costs, forms and policies as to how Sheriff Sales of real property are handled.
Before considering a sheriff sale of real property, you must ALWAYS do a title search first (estimated cost $150).
It is quite possible that other creditors have liens ahead of your judgment. That means that they would get paid first at your expense. It would make little sense to try to force a sale of a property if the property is already attached with a mortgage or encumbrance that exceeds the value of the property.
Sheriff’s sales are a great idea when there is equity in real property owned by the debtor. As stated, this must be verified by a title search first. It is also almost always a good idea to have an appraisal of any real property before proceeding with a sheriff sale against it.
The best way to collect a judgment in Pennsylvania is to:
- Enter Your Judgment, and domesticate your judgment in EACH AND EVERY COUNTY where the debtor resides or owns real property;
- Issue a Writ of Execution with the department of court records in that specific county;
- Have the Sheriff Serve the Writ Of Execution to seize bank accounts by serving interrogatories to any garnishee holding monies of the debtor;
- Have the Sheriff Serve the Writ Of Execution to levy and sell any and all personal assets or vehicles which the debtor owns; and
- Have the Sheriff Serve the Writ Of Execution to levy on any and all real property the debtor owns.
If you have questions about a Pennsylvania debt collection case, please feel free to call our offices at (412) 802.6666 or email us at email@example.com.
We offer free consultations and would be happy to help.
Read more:Pennsylvania Debt Collection FAQ’s.
This article is written for entertainment purposes only. It should not be relied upon for legal advice. Please read full legal Disclaimer.