Collect From the Debtor's Property

Once you find out about the debtor's assets or property, you can follow the required steps to collect your judgment from those assets.

Click on the topic below that applies to the assets your debtor has. You can try several things at once.

If these methods do not work, try more ways to collect from the debtor. You can also get help from your small claims advisor.


Collect From the Debtor's Wages

If the debtor is employed, you can get an Earnings Withholding Order to garnish the debtor's wages until you are paid. You have the right to collect up to 25 percent of the amount over the federal minimum wage that the debtor earns (as long as it is not exempt under other rules). This only works if the other person is employed by someone else. A wage garnishment does not work against someone who is self-employed.

  1. Ask the court to issue a Writ of Execution (Form EJ-130). Click to learn how to ask for a Writ of Execution.
  2. Prepare an Application for Earnings Withholding Order (Wage Garnishment) (Form WG-001).
  3. Hire a process server or the sheriff/marshal to serve the employer with the necessary papers for the wage garnishment.
  4. The process server or sheriff/marshal will usually fill out the Earnings Withholding Order (Form WG-002) using the information from the Writ of Execution. But you may have to fill it out yourself. This form has instructions on the back for the employer explaining how much money to garnish (take) from the debtor's wages.
  5. The process server or sheriff/marshal must also serve the employer with the Employer's Return (Wage Garnishment) (Form WG-005) and Employee Instructions (Wage Garnishment) (Form WG-003). You may have to provide these forms to the process server or sheriff/marshal.

The debtor has 10 days to file a Claim of Exemption (Form WG-006) . If the debtor does file this claim, you have the right to oppose it. Click to learn about a Claim of Exemption for wage garnishments and how to oppose it.

Collect From the Debtor's Bank Account or Safe Deposit Box

You can get a levy on the debtor's bank account or safe deposit box. You will need to know the branch where the accounts are kept, and sometimes you also have to know the account number. Check with your small claims advisor or sheriff/marshal for more information on the procedures in your county.

  1. Ask the court to issue a Writ of Execution (Form EJ-130). Click to learn how to ask for a Writ of Execution.
  2. Then prepare instructions for the sheriff/marshal explaining what you want them to levy (take). Check with your levying officers to see if they have a local form or prepare your own. Click to find your local sheriff.
  3. In many counties you will need to hire a process server to serve the bank with the Notice of Levy (Enforcement of Judgment) (Form EJ-150) in order to get the money from the account or property from the safe deposit box. If you hire a process server, he or she generally will prepare the instructions as a part of their fee.
  4. At the time of levy or promptly after the levy, a process server or sheriff/marshal must also serve (personally or by mail) the judgment debtor with copies of the writ, notice of levy, and the Exemptions From the Enforcement of Judgments (Form EJ-155). Check to see if you are responsible for providing these forms for service.

The judgment debtor has 10 days to oppose the bank levy before the sheriff sends the money to the creditor. The debtor has to file a Claim of Exemption (Form EJ-160). If he or she does, you have the right to oppose it. The court then may have a hearing to decide whether to turn all or some of the money over to you as the creditor or let the judgment debtor keep it.

Click to learn about a Claim of Exemption for levies or other nonwage garnishments and how to oppose it.

Putting a Lien on the Debtor's Real Property

To collect from a debtor who will not pay you, you can file a lien on the debtor's real property (like a house or land).  This way when the debtor tries to sell or refinance his or her home, you can get paid your judgment plus accrued interest from the escrow. If you choose not to wait for the debtor to sell or refinance the property, you can look into "foreclosing" on the judgment lien. This means that you force the debtor to sell the property and pay you with that money. This only works when there is enough equity in the property to pay all the liens as well as the costs of foreclosure.

  1. Prepare an Abstract of Judgment Civil and Small Claims (Form EJ-001). All the required information must be included or the lien will not be valid.
  2. Take or mail 2 copies of the completed Abstract of Judgment to the court so that the Abstract can be certified by the clerk of the court. There is a fee (about $25) for this. If you use mail, be sure to include an envelope addressed to yourself and with sufficient postage so that the court can return the certified Abstract of Judgment to you.
  3. Take the certified Abstract of Judgment and 1 copy to the county recorder's office in the county where you believe the debtor owns real property. Click to find a county recorder. There will be a recording fee (about $20).
  4. The county recorder will provide notice to the debtor that you have recorded the Abstract of Judgment.
  5. You will not be paid automatically, but if the debtor refinances or sells the property, you may get paid your money with interest.
  6. If you believe the debtor owns property in more than 1 county, you will have to repeat this process for each county. Only 1 Abstract of Judgment needs to be recorded per county, even if there are multiple properties within a single county.

Some county assessors will confirm if a debtor owns real property over the phone, or you may be able to find that information online at the county assessor's website. Click to find your county tax assessor.

Having the debtor's house or other real property sold at public auction
You can have the sheriff or marshal take the debtor's real property and have it sold at public auction. For more information, check out California Code of Civil Procedure sections 700.015, 701.540 through 701.680, and 704.710 through 704.850.

This is a relatively complex way to collect a judgment. If you still want to do it, follow these steps:

  • Start by getting information about the real property from the county assessor's office and the county recorder's office. Does a bank or other lender have an interest in the property? Are there other owners of the property?
  • Have the court issue a Writ of Execution (Form EJ-130) to the sheriff or marshal in the county where the real property is located. Click to learn how to ask for a Writ of Execution.
  • Give the sheriff or marshal written instructions and pay their fees. Click to find your county sheriff. The sheriff will probably have a form of "Real Property Levy Instructions." The fees will probably be about $1,000.
  • An officer will then serve a Notice of Levy on the debtor and you.
  • If the real property is a dwelling, you must ask the court for an order of sale. You must do this within 20 days of receiving notice that the levy has been made. You can use a Request for Court Order and Answer (Form SC-105) to do this.
  • After 120 days, an officer will then serve a "Notice of Sale" on the debtor. The notice will be posted in a public place and on the property. It is served on the occupant of the property, if there is one. The notice also is published in the local newspaper and mailed to any lienholders.
  • Proceeds from the sale must be distributed within 30 days after the sale. 

Putting a Lien on the Debtor's Personal Property

You can have the sheriff take the debtor's personal property and sell it at public auction to pay the debt.

This personal property can include things like:

  • Audio equipment, televisions, or musical instruments;
  • Computers;
  • Coin collections;
  • Jewelry;
  • Rare books, etc.

But, often, the cost of doing this is more than the value of the property, so make sure that the property you want the sheriff to take and sell will be worth all the effort and money.

If you decide you want to try this collection method, you must:

  1. Ask the court to issue a Writ of Possessopm (Form EJ-130) directed to the sheriff or marshal in the county where the property is located. Click to learn how to ask for a Writ of Execution.
  2. Give the sheriff/marshal or a registered process server written instructions. If you hire a process server, he or she generally will prepare the instructions as a part of their fee.
  3. A Notice of Levy (Enforcement of Judgment) (Form EJ-150) is then prepared and served on the debtor, instructing him or her to turn the property over to the levying officer.
  4. The sheriff/marshal only makes a demand for the property (and does not forcibly take it) when serving the debtor with the Notice of Levy and advises the debtor that he or she may be liable for attorney fees and costs.
  5. If the debtor does not deliver the property, the sheriff takes no further action to obtain the property and notifies you that the property was not delivered to the sheriff or marshal. If this occurs, you will need to get a seizure or turnover order from the court. Talk to your court's small claims advisor for more information.

Getting the sheriff to take the debtor's car and sell it
One of the items of personal property you can put a lien on is the debtor's car. After you put the lien, the sheriff will seize (take) the car and sell it. This process is fairly expensive. Also, there often is not enough value, if any, left in the car to pay very much of the judgment.

But if you decide you would like to do this, follow these steps:

  1. Start by getting information about the car including its identification number (VIN), make, model, color, license number, and physical location.  If possible, also find out if a bank or other lender has an interest in the car.
  2. Ask the court to issue a Writ of Sale or a Writ of Possession (Form EJ-130) directed to the sheriff or marshal in the county where the vehicle is located. Click to learn how to ask for a Writ of Execution.
  3. Give the sheriff/marshal written instructions that describe the car as thoroughly as possible and pay their fees and deposit (about $1,000).
  4. An officer will then physically remove the car and store it. Daily storage costs will accumulate until the car is sold.
  5. The sheriff/marshal then advertises the public auction of the car and gives notice to the debtor.
  6. If the car is sold at auction, before you get paid, the sheriff's fees (like the storage costs) will be paid. Also, the debtor is entitled to around $2,300 of the proceeds of the sale if this is his or her only car.  And any loans against the car will be paid first.

Putting a Lien on a Lawsuit that the Debtor Has Against Someone Else

If the debtor has a lawsuit against someone else, you may be able to put a lien on the money the debtor hopes to get (his or her recovery) if he or she wins that lawsuit.

You can place a lien on the debtor's recovery in a pending lawsuit by:

Getting a Writ of Execution

When a court issues a Writ of Execution (Form EJ-130), the court directs the sheriff or marshal to enforce the judgment in your case in the county where the assets are located.

  • Writs of execution are only good for 180 days.
  • When you give your Writ of Execution to the sheriff's department to enforce your judgment (as most collection methods require), include in your instructions that you want the sheriff to keep the writ open for 180 days (so you can try different collection methods during the life of the writ).

Getting a writ of execution may be a required first step in enforcing your judgment and is the most common method of reaching a judgment debtor's interest in real and personal property.

To ask the court to issue a writ, you will have to prepare the Writ of Execution (Form EJ-130) and sometimes an affidavit supporting the writ of execution, where you explain why you need the writ to collect on your judgment.

Courts may deal with writs of execution differently:

  • You may just have to file the writ and the affidavit and wait for the judge's decision. If the judge agrees with you, the court will issue you a Writ of Execution.
  • In some cases, you may have to ask for a hearing in front of the judge and maybe even give notice to the debtor that you are going to court to get a Writ of Execution.

Talk to the clerk at your local court to find out how your court handles this process.

Site Map | Careers | Contact Us | Accessibility | Public Access to Records | Terms of Use | Privacy