A money judgment is a critical first step toward collecting a debt, but it's not the last step. Sometimes a debtor pays up once the court rules, but sometimes he doesn't. All states have laws to aid judgment creditors to collect judgment debts, including procedures that allow you to seize money in a debtor's bank accounts. At this point, how to find out where someone banks becomes a very important question.
If you obtain a judgment against someone, you're allowed to take post-judgment discovery, which means you can ask them where they have their bank accounts. If they don't respond, you can usually send requests to all the local banks and hope for a hit.
What Is a Money Judgment?
A judgment is a court's ruling on a lawsuit brought before it. It is a written document that establishes the rights and responsibilities of the parties about the matters raised in the case.
Many cases brought in the United States involve money. Any time money is awarded in a court case, the judgment is called a money judgment. The person awarded the money is called the judgment creditor and the person owing the money is called the judgment debtor.
Enforcing a Money Judgment
Although getting a money judgment in your favor is a big step in a dispute, the judgment doesn't magically transfer the amount from the debtor's bank account to your own. Sometimes, a judgment debtor pays up promptly. But other times, the judgment creditor doesn't see a dime until she takes further action.
All states allow a judgment creditor to take action to collect a money judgment, but the means and procedures authorized are different. That makes it essential to check your own state laws before jumping into collections. Some of the methods permitted by states include ordering an employer to withhold some of the debtor's income to be paid directly to you (often used for continuing obligations like child support judgments), filing a lien against a debtor's real estate holdings, and seizing (levying) bank accounts. Levying bank accounts is a relatively quick way to snag the money you are owed provided you find the debtor's accounts and they have sufficient funds to cover the debt.
How to Find Someone's Bank Account
So, how to find someone's bank account once you get a money judgment against him? If you happen to have a check from him, even one that bounced, you are in luck. The check will tell you the name of the bank and the debtor's account number. However, the debtor may have additional accounts where he actually keeps his money, so you probably want to turn to discovery.
Discovery is the procedure by which one party to a lawsuit gets evidence and information from the other. During the case, either party can send out written questions (called interrogatories) that the other party must answer under penalty of perjury within a certain amount of time, often 30 days. Another important form of discovery is that in which a party or a person having information about the case is called to answer questions about the case in front of someone recording the entire procedure. Again, this procedure, called a deposition, is under penalty of perjury. Post-judgment discovery is usually used by a judgment creditor to obtain financial information about a debtor's assets.
As a judgment creditor, you can send interrogatories both to the debtor and to financial institutions or any third party who is believed to hold assets of the debtor. The procedures and requirements vary among states, so look up the law or talk to an attorney. Often, the first set of interrogatories includes questions about the assets and job location of the judgment debtor. The debtor (or third party) must answer the interrogatories within the time required by law signed under oath. Financial institutions usually have to disclose only whether they hold funds of the judgment debtor on account and if so, how much is in the accounts. You can also bring the debtor in for a post-judgment deposition.
Note that certain assets and funds may be subject to a legal exemption. But once you levy funds, the debtor must raise the matter and prove that the funds are exempt from seizure.