What is a Citation to Discover Assets?

What is a Citation to Discover Assets?
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Last updated: September 2012

What is a Citation to Discover Assets?

If someone claims that you owe them money, they may go to court and bring a lawsuit. If the person or company, called a "creditor", wins the case, the court will give them a judgment against you. A judgment is a court order stating how much you owe to this creditor. The creditor may try to collect the money from you in a court proceeding called a "Citation to Discover Assets". This proceeding is used by your creditors to discover what sources of income or property you may have that can be used to pay off the judgment against you. You may be required to bring certain documents with you such as your tax returns, bank statements and pay stubs.

How Will I Find Out about the Citation to Discover Assets?

The creditor must provide you with written notice of your rights and the date and time your case is to be heard in court. That date is called the "return date". You must appear in court on the return date and submit to questions from your creditor's attorney about your income and property. If you fail to appear in court on the return date or if you fail to produce the documents that have been requested by your creditor, you can be arrested for contempt of court.

Can a Creditor Take All My Income and Property to Pay Off a Judgment?

No. The law protects certain types of income and property from collection. Income and property that your creditor cannot touch are called "exemptions." Up to $371.25 a week of your take-home pay (after tax) is exempt from collection. Other exemptions include:

  • Social Security and SSI
  • Unemployment Compensation
  • Public  Assistance Benefits
  • Veteran's benefits
  • Child support or maintenance needed for support of you or family
  • Pension and most types of retirement benefits
  • Disability, illness, or unemployment benefits
  • Award under a crime victim's compensation law
  • Wrongful death award needed for your support
  • Life insurance payment needed for your support
  • $2,400 equity in a motor vehicle
  • $15,000 equity in a home ($30,000 for married couple) 
  • $15,000 or less of a personal injury award

In addition to the exemptions listed above, there is a general "wild card exemption" of up to $4,000 that can be used to protect any other property of your choosing. You must tell the creditor and the judge that you are using your wild card exemption.

What Will Happen to Me When I Go to Court?

If the creditor's examination reveals that all of your income and property is exempt from collection, the citation will be dismissed and the creditor will leave empty handed. If the creditor's examination is incomplete, the citation may be continued to another date and you may be required to return to submit to further questioning. If the creditor's examination reveals income or property that is not exempt under the law, the creditor may select from one or more of the following options:

What Do I Do When I Go to Court?

1. Go to Court:

Appear in court at the date, time and place given as the "return date" in your court papers.

2. Get Your Line Number:

Outside the court room, you will find a list of all the scheduled court cases for that day. Search the case list for your court case. There will be a number to the left of your case called the "line number". Remember this number.

3. Check In with the Clerk:

Step into the court room and wait in line to check in with the clerk located at the front of the courtroom. The clerk will place you under oath to tell the truth.

4.  Talk to the Creditor's Attorney:

After you have been sworn in by the clerk, you will be approached by the creditor's attorney and asked to answer questions about your income and property (this is known as a "citation examination").  By law, you are required to participate in this examination. If your income or property is exempt from collection, you need to tell the creditor's attorney what exemption you are claiming.

5. Find Out if Your Case Will Be Called:

Once you have completed the citation examination you should ask the creditor's attorney if you are free to go or if s/he will be "calling" your case before the judge. If the attorney decides to call your case, you will need to wait in court until your case is called by the clerk. In general, your case will only be called if you have agreed to a payment plan or if the creditor is seeking further information.

Further Help

If you need to speak to an attorney and your case is at the Daley Center in Cook County, you can visit the CARPLS Self-Help Collection Desk in Room 1401, Monday through Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., or you can call the CARPLS Legal Aid Hotline at (312) 738-9200. If your case is in another county, see the "Helpful Organizations" list below.

Helpful Organizations
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For a list of organizations in your area that may be able to help you, enter your zip code.



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