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5 Steps How to Collect a Judgment in Pennsylvania.

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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:

  1. Seizing a bank, credit union or monetary account; (this will require specific directions concerning the bank or garnishee)
  2. Selling personal assets, and/or vehicles; (one again, requiring a specific location to VIN #) and/or
  3. 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.

collect a judgment

Seizing bank accounts freezes the accounts immediately.

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:

  1. Enter the judgment;
  2. Obtain a writ of execution;
  3. Deliver the writ of execution and “interrogatories to the garnishee” to the sheriff; and
  4. 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.

  1. Enter the judgment;
  2. Obtain a writ of execution;
  3. Deliver the writ of execution and “sheriff direction forms” to the sheriff; and
  4. 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.


Conclusion.

debt collection in PA

The goal is getting paid.

The best way to collect a judgment in Pennsylvania is to:

  1. Enter Your Judgment, and domesticate your judgment in EACH AND EVERY COUNTY where the debtor resides or owns real property;
  2. Issue a Writ of Execution with the department of court records in that specific county;
  3. Have the Sheriff Serve the Writ Of Execution to seize bank accounts by serving interrogatories to any garnishee holding monies of the debtor;
  4. Have the Sheriff Serve the Writ Of Execution to levy and sell any and all personal assets or vehicles which the debtor owns; and
  5. 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 info@pghfirm.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.

About Noah Paul Fardo

Noah Paul Fardo, Esq. is a Pennsylvania trial lawyer and the managing partner of Flaherty Fardo, LLC. His legal practice focuses in medical malpractice, personal injury, business litigation, and property tax appeals. You can find him on Google+.

37 Comments

  1. Michael Hemphill

    Hello Noah,
    In the state of PA is there a way to find out where someone is banking so one can levy against an individual’s bank account for a judgment?

    If the judgment is against a person who has an account at Federal Credit Union, can the Sheriff serve any credit union with the Writ of Execution and the Interogitories?

    • Noah Paul Fardo

      Much delayed response:
      1. The best way is to obtain banking information of debtors is through written discovery and/or depositions. It may take effort, but you can force production of tax returns, bank statements, mortgages or any other financial information.
      2. Yes – any employee of a bank or credit union can be served.
      good luck
      noah

  2. Margaret

    On your blog, you list steps to follow for seizing bank accounts for a debt owed. If I understand the article correctly, after I get the writ of execution, I give it to the sheriff to deliver the writ and interrogatories to give to a bank. This can get very costly to find the correct bank. Is there something I can do to find the correct bank before sending the sheriff in to present the interrogatories?

    • Noah Paul Fardo

      Yes – you can do a notice of deposition in aid of execution and require the debtor to bring tax returns, banking information etc. Sometimes you can also look at their credit reports to see if they have any loans with banks etc, and that should point you in the right direction. Hope this helps. noah

  3. Noah Fardo

    Obviously the best source if is you have past cancelled checks from the debtor. Also pull a credit report and sometimes based upon the identity of the creditor, it can lead you to find accounts. Finally, if a bank employee is willing to tell you, that may also work. You do need to be careful about attempting execution at a bank without any reasonable basis to believe the debtor may have banked there. Meaning if you try to shotgun every bank in the state, without any reasonable basis, not only would it be expensive, but in theory the banks could try to ask for costs in responding. Good luck.

  4. Dean Langseder

    I have a $50,000 judgment from 2012 against my brother-in-law who lives in Florida and refuses to repay me. In 2014 he transferred the deed of some acreage of land he owned in the Poconos to his daughter. I would call it a fraudulent transfer to avoid paying me. He still hasn’t paid me back a dime. Can I somehow seize the property in Poconos? It is worth about $50K. I believe the statute of limitations is 4 years, so there should be 1 year left.

  5. J.B Miller

    I have a judgment against a municipality they have failed to pay the judgment. Do these same rules apply to a government entity?

    I know what bank institutions they use.

  6. Kelly

    Hi Noah – I am the plaintiff and the judgment has been entered against the defendant in my case. The defendant, as far as I know, only owes property in one county, where the judgment was entered. According to the steps to collect – it says to file the judgment. Is this different than it being entered on the docket by the court? Or, is it considered filed once it has been entered? The court never sent me a copy of the judgment – I had to call them to find out. Thanks so much for your help.

    • Noah Paul Fardo

      They should be the same. If the judgment was entered on the docket, your next step is to issue a writ of execution. You should not need to file the judgment again.

      thanks
      noah

  7. Frederick

    If a deadbeat owns nothing today, will the judgement also apply to future property? If so, how would one know if the defendant tried to buy a house or new car or otherwise obtained property?

    • Noah Paul Fardo

      The first question is a very good question. Does an old judgment apply to new assets or property? I would say yes. If I have a judgment against you, and you buy a property the following month, I believe the judgment would act as a lien against the property. Now be alerting of those new assets is more difficult and would require periodic credit searches.

  8. Mary Ann

    We have a money judgement on a tenant who vacated a rental property in Florida. They now reside in Crawford County, PA. Can you assist with collection?

  9. Steve

    I have a judgment against a person and they don’t owe real estate, I know where they live, can I do a sheriff sale of their personal property? This would be in Delaware Co.

    • Noah Paul Fardo

      You can do a sale on personal property in Pennsylvania, however, unless you have a judgment against both husband and wife, marital property is exempt and may not be collected upon.

  10. Eliza

    Hi Noah,
    Is the process you outlined above the same when collecting on a judgment issued as a result of a Landlord/Tenant complaint? If not, can you point me in the right direction?
    Thanks!

  11. Abby

    If someone owes you $500 does it even make any sense to take them to small claims court?

    • Noah Paul Fardo

      only if you are able to collect. If they are a deadbeat, then you are probably wasting your money, but if they have assets, then you should be able to collect the debt, plus costs of filing.

  12. Jessica

    In PA, after a writ of execution is filed, the garnishment is served on the garnishee bank by the county sheriff, and the answers to the interrogatories are sent to the applicable parties indicating the requested funds are available and a hold has been placed on the account, what is the next step? I am the plaintiff of this case, working pro se, and neither the sheriff’s office nor the legal process officer of the bank seem to want to be responsible for informing me how to actually receive the money due. Would appreciate your input.

    • Noah Paul Fardo

      Contact the bank directly and tell them you are going to enter judgment against the bank (less $300) and to release the funds immediately to you. If you seize a bank (or credit union) account and want to garnish those funds, and they won’t voluntarily release them, then you need to enter judgment against the garnishee and if they still will not pay, then execute against the bank’s assets. They will pay. Can get more difficult if the garnishee is not an accredited banking institution. Good luck. noah

  13. Ray Chapman

    Am the plaintiff in a vehicle sheriff’s sale next week. What do I have to do? Do I bid? Do I have someone else bid? Are the titles signed at the sale? Can the vehicles be driven from the sale or must they be towed? Are there any fees or other monies that have to be paid at the sale?
    Thanks!

    • Noah Paul Fardo

      If someone else bids, they will have to bid your judgment amount and costs. At which point this is the best case scenario. If no one bids, typically (depending upon County rules) you or authorized representative can bid “sheriff costs” and obtain possession of the vehicle at the time of the sale. If you do not have keys you will be responsible for transport. Sheriff will provide bill of sale that will allow you to apply for title with the state. Hope this helps.

  14. Karen Stengel

    We won a case against our sister-in-law and she had a judgement issued against her to pay her 4 siblings a dollar amount that she could not do at the end of the case. She appealed the first decision and lost. She now cannot borrow some money they need and has decided to hire an attorney to contest the judgement. The case was heard over 5 years ago. How do we revive a judgement?

  15. Dan

    What if a person owns a single member LLC? Can I collect from the company on a personal judgement against the member? Can I seize company assets for the personal debt from the company?

    • Noah Paul Fardo

      Typically, no. If the LLC is properly set up and simply not a sham, then it should receive the corporate protection any corporation or LLC would receive regardless if it is a single member LLC or not. Thus, if your judgment is against the individual only, it will probably prove difficult if not impossible to sell the assets of a registered LLC. Hope this helps.

  16. Michele

    So the company i work for loaned an ex-employee money we took him to small claims court and won. Now we are trying to get the money. He is no longer at the same bank when he was working with us b/c i already got a writ for that bank. It seems he has moved a couple of times so we did an address search for new address. i was going to serve him at that address but he is married so i am guessing marital property is exempt and we are pretty sure he doesn’t own anything himself. How can i pull a credit report on him if he isn’t a tenant and no longer an employee? What would be our next options to collect this money? Can we some how garnish his wages? If the bank and property are our only options then what is the point of a judgement if you can’t get it. I know someone people have that information but what happens when you don’t.

  17. Michael

    How do I force a sale of a house, land or condo in the State of PA on Judgments which are in the Court of Common Pleas?

    • Noah Paul Fardo

      If you already have the judgment, you would need to issue a writ of execution on real property. The Sheriff’s office would then post notice of the writ and schedule a sheriff sale of the real property. You need to conduct an accurate title search first to ensure you are aware of a lien holders including mortgages or taxes which may be owed on the property first. Good Luck. Noah

  18. Josh

    Noah,

    An individual owes me money (a personal debt). He has a business (a sole proprietorship). Can I seize company assets for the personal debt from his company?

    • Noah Paul Fardo

      You may not seize company assets if the company is officially recognized as a corporation in PA (i.e. a P.C. or LLC), and the company can prove ownership of the assets. If the company is a D/B/A (doing business as) then yes you may be able to collect against those assets. Hope this helps.
      noah

  19. Mary

    I have a praecipe for writ of execution filed, the debtor sold his home after the praecipe was entered. Can the home still be sold by serving the writ of execution?

  20. Jim

    I am a teacher. The father of an old student asked to borrow $1000 to get out of a jam. I lent him the money. After months of ignored contacts attempts, I took him to small claims. I won judgement, still no payment. Was going to chalk it up, when I found out he has done this to 5 other teachers in the district. I paid for an order of execution. But the constable has made 6 attempts to serve the levy, with no luck. Would I get my fees back if he can’t serve it?

    • Noah Paul Fardo

      Unfortunately no. You are entitled to any excess costs not used by the Sheriff’s office though. I would file the judgment in the county where the debtor resides so as to ensure the judgement remains on debtors credit report. Good luck.
      noah

  21. Noah Paul Fardo

    If you had your judgment recorded in the state court where the property was deed, the sale should have recognized your lien. If the property transferred anyway, then you may want to make a claim against the new owners and potentially their title insurance will pay the claim. The title company should have done a title search, and should have recognized your lien. Hope this helps.

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