George Simons | July 21, 2022
Summary: When you're sued for debt, you might not know what to do. You might try to ignore the debt and how it goes away. When that doesn't work, you might find yourself with a summary judgment against you. Is it a good idea to ignore the judgment? Read more to find out what happens if you don't pay.
You've just received a judgment. Or maybe it's been floating around for a while. And it's a lot of money. You might be wondering, “Should I even pay it?”
Read on to find out what happens if a defendant does not pay a judgment.
A judgment comes after someone is sued. Whoever wants to collect money from you (the creditor) will first file a lawsuit, and then, the court will decide what or how you need to pay. That decision is the judgment.
It's usually the amount you owe plus any interest.
As you're trying to figure out what happens if a defendant does not pay a judgment, you may see the word “judgment” combined with other words. Here's a vocabulary cheat sheet to help you through any confusion:
Unfortunately, only bad things will happen when a defendant does not pay a judgment. A judgment doesn't just ask you nicely until you agree. It basically gives the creditor permission to take the money from you, even if you won't give it willingly.
Here's how it might go: Backed by the judgment, the creditor can request an execution from the court. That gives an enforcement officer (like a Sheriff or City Marshal) the green light to go seize and sell your stuff. They could haul your collector car off to an auction, for example. It sounds invasive, but it's legal.
A judgment could also give a creditor a lien to your property. That means they own it. Say you've been working on selling your house. Either you won't be able to sell it until you pay, or whatever you make from selling the house will first go toward the debt.
Another common way of collecting a debt is garnishing. The court can order your employer to take money out of your wages. They can also pull money directly from your account. The amount will vary depending on what state you live in, and there's a cap so you have enough left to survive. In most cases, VA benefits and Social Security are off-limits.
Looking from a new angle at what happens if a defendant does not pay a judgment, here's an especially tricky way they'll get money out of you: putting you into jail.
If the creditor can't legally access your money or possessions, they might instigate a debtor's examination, where they can ask you a bunch of questions. If you don't show up, the court can “find you in civil contempt.” The court interprets your absence as disobeying orders, and you have to pay up or go to jail.
If you choose prison, you'll stay until you pay the bond — which will probably be the amount you owe. Sneaky.
So, don't forget to show up to a debtor's examination! Even if the creditor has done this numerous times — even if you know they can't win — they're just hoping you forget to show up one day.
Regardless of your situation, whether you're willing to pay or are holding creditors at bay, remember that a judgment will accrue interest for as long as it's active.
Five to seven years is pretty typical, but depending on your situation and location, your judgment may be active for 20 or more years. That's a monstrous amount of interest — not to mention a heavy mental load.
Don't forget that judgments go on your public record. Along with bankruptcy and tax lien, they're one of the types of court actions that have to appear on your credit report. It'll affect your credit score, and people won't be so keen to lend you money.
Judgments can also show up on background checks. If you apply for a job that will pay more than $75,000 a year, your potential employer will have to know.
In some cases, you need only wait for the judgment to expire for it to come off your credit report. But remember that a creditor can revive a judgment if the judgment hasn't been satisfied.
So, you're wondering what happens if a defendant does not pay a judgment. In a way, time is your friend — but only if your creditor is forgetful.
The judgment should come off your credit report. And paying the debt is a huge step in rebuilding your credit score.
When you pay, make sure you get the creditor to file a Satisfaction of Judgment with the court clerk. While there, they'll also need to remove any indication that they have a lien on your property.
This is a hugely important step in cleaning up your public record and being free of your debt, both financially and mentally.
If you forget this step and can't get in touch with the creditor later when you need them, you'll have to show a lot of proof to the court clerk that the judgment was paid. It's possible, but it'll be a hassle — so just remember to get the thing filed.
What if the creditor won't do it?
Send them a letter. If they still refuse to file a Satisfaction of Judgment, or they don't respond within the required number of days (usually under or around a month), the court may require them to pay you something.
Say you needed that form for an application, and the creditor's delay made you miss the deadline. A lot of states will require the creditor to cover any damages you suffered because of that neglect.
Compare what happens if a defendant does not pay a judgment to when you do: Once you satisfy the judgment, you have the court on your side.
SoloSuit makes it easy to respond to a debt collection lawsuit.
How it works: SoloSuit is a step-by-step web-app that asks you all the necessary questions to complete your answer. Upon completion, you can either print the completed forms and mail in the hard copies to the courts or you can pay SoloSuit to file it for you and to have an attorney review the document.
"First time getting sued by a debt collector and I was searching all over YouTube and ran across SoloSuit, so I decided to buy their services with their attorney reviewed documentation which cost extra but it was well worth it! SoloSuit sent the documentation to the parties and to the court which saved me time from having to go to court and in a few weeks the case got dismissed!" – James
Here's a list of guides for other states.
Being sued by a different debt collector? We're making guides on how to beat each one.
Is your credit card company suing you? Learn how you can beat each one.
Need more info on statutes of limitations? Read our 50-state guide.
Need help managing your finances? Check out these resources.