What Can Happen If Someone Gets a Judgment Against You

What Can Happen If Someone Gets a Judgment Against You
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Last updated: August 2010

A judgment is simply a judge's order that an individual (generally the "defendant" in a lawsuit) owes another individual (the "plaintiff" in a lawsuit) a sum of money. A valid judgment can be entered by a judge only after:

  • A lawsuit has been filed in court by the plaintiff; and
  • The defendant is served with a summons to appear in court and a "complaint" (the document in which the plaintiff writes out the facts about why s/he is suing the defendant); and
  • The defendant has an opportunity to present his/her side of the story to the judge.

Many myths exist about the significance of a judgment being entered against a defendant. In reality, if a judgment is entered against you, the following can happen:

  • The judgment may be reported to credit agencies and show up on your credit report;
  • If you are working and take home more than $371.25 per week, the plaintiff may require that your employer garnish up to 15% of your net wages until the judgment is paid off. "Garnish" means that the employer withholds up to 15% of your wages (you always get to take home at least $371.25). The wage deduction will stay in place until the judgment debt is paid off.
  • If you have bank accounts, the plaintiff may ask that the bank "garnish" your bank account and give the money to the plaintiff;
  • Interest will accrue causing the judgment to increase. Similarly, if the plaintiff tries to garnish your wages and/or bank accounts, you may be responsible for additional court costs which will increase the size of the judgment.
If the plaintiff tries to garnish your wages or a bank account, you should consult with an attorney to see if there is anything that can be done to stop the garnishment.

If you do not have wages, a bank account, or own a house, the judgment has little significance. The plaintiff cannot touch your public benefits (e.g. Welfare, Social Security, and Unemployment Compensation) and you will not be sent to jail or prison.

If a judgment is entered against you it is helpful to you, if possible, to arrange to pay off the judgment in installments. If the plaintiff agrees to a payment plan, and you make the payments on time, the plaintiff will not have to use the garnishment proceedings and you will not have the additional costs of a garnishment. When the judge enters the judgment against you, ask the judge if you can pay it off in installments. If you are being sued for $10,000 or less, Supreme Court Rule 288 allows the judge to order installment payments. If the judge orders installment payments, the plaintiff cannot use the garnishment procedures as long as you are current with your payments. Once you pay a judgment in full it is important to obtain a Release and Satisfaction of Judgment from the plaintiff, which you should then file with the court.

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