Although you may think the hard work is behind you if you won your court case, it may only be the beginning. Unless you get lucky and the defendant pays you right away, you're going to have to jump through a few more hoops to collect the money that the judge awards you. However, South Carolina laws give you a few avenues with which to work, including seizing money in the defendant's bank accounts, garnishing his wages and placing liens on any real estate he may own in the state.
Property Liens Last 10 Years
Once you win a judgment for money owed, South Carolina law allows the court to place a lien on any real estate the defendant -- who is the judgment debtor -- owns in the county where the court is located. This happens automatically and the lien stays in effect for 10 years, starting from the date of the judgment. To place a lien on property outside the county, you must provide a copy of the judgment to the clerk of court in every county where the debtor has property. The lien prevents the debtor from selling the property without first paying the debt he owes you from the proceeds. You can also use the judgment lien to foreclose on the debtor's property.
Judgments Accrue Annual Interest
South Carolina permits interest to accrue annually on your judgment until it is collected in full. This is termed the "legal rate of interest." State law sets the interest rate as the prime rate plus four percentage points. For example, the 2014 prime rate was 3.25 percent. After adding the required four percentage points, the legal rate of interest applied to South Carolina judgments in 2014 was 7.25 percent. This means that the longer it takes the debtor to pay you, the more he'll end up owing you in the long run due to the accruing interest.
The Sheriff Can Seize Property
In addition to placing a judgment lien on the debtor's real estate, state law also permits you to use the judgment to get a writ of execution from the court. This document is delivered to the sheriff and gives him authority to seize the debtor's personal property, such as money in bank accounts, vehicles, jewelry, tools, equipment and anything else of value. The property is sold at auction and the proceeds forwarded to you along with any money retrieved from the debtor's financial accounts. You can also use the writ to garnish the debtor's wages.
Not All Property Is Up for Grabs
Even if you win your lawsuit and get a judgment, it doesn't mean you're entitled to all the debtor's property. Under South Carolina law, some property is exempt from being legally seized. For example, a debtor's Social Security payments and veteran's and disability benefits are off limits. South Carolina also protects a homeowner's primary residence by allowing the debtor to keep up to $50,000 of the home's equity, known as the homestead exemption. This means that if your debtor has either no equity in his home or has only accumulated less than $50,000 in it, you can't touch it because there's nothing to gain from selling it.
- Justia US Law: South Carolina Code of Laws, Title 15, Chapter 35, Section 15-35-810
- Nolo: Judgment Liens on Property in South Carolina
- Justia US Law: South Carolina Code of Laws, Title 34, Chapter 31, Section 34-31-20
- South Carolina Judicial Department: Interest Rate on Money Decrees and Judgments
- Bankrate: Wall Street Journal Prime Rate
- Justia US Law: South Carolina Code of Laws, Title 15, Chapter 39
- Third Judicial District Court: Collection on Judgments and Exemptions from Collection
- Pierce, Herns, Sloan & Wilson: Collecting on Judgment in South Carolina
- Justia US Law: South Carolina Code of Laws, Title 15, Chapter 41
- TongRo Images/TongRo Images/Getty Images