It has been said that nothing is free in this world, and that includes money waiting to be paid out in court judgments. The philosophy behind the Texas justice system, like others in the U.S., is that from the time a debt is incurred by a debtor, through the time the court renders a judgment in favor of the creditor, the money has stopped belonging to the debtor.
All the while, interest is accruing, which also must be paid. This increases the final amount of what the debtor owes to the creditor, and as you can imagine, this number grows and grows. For that reason, a settlement negotiated by an experienced attorney is always preferable to a runaway judgment.
Whether you are a defendant needing to understand how much the true cost of the lawsuit will be, or a plaintiff waiting to collect your hard-won money, experienced attorney Seth Kretzer can help you navigate settling cases and paying judgments.
What Is an Outstanding Judgment?
Just what are outstanding judgments? An outstanding judgment is an amount of money that a Texas State Court or Federal District Court has been awarded to a successful Plaintiff, but that has not yet been paid. When the Plaintiff is a creditor, a judgment will often be achieved simply by the Defendant debtor failing to show up in Court on the assigned day, leading to a default judgment against the debtor.
What Happens after a Judgment Is Entered Against You?
A judgment can turn an otherwise uncollectible old credit account into a readily collectible amount of money. For instance, if a creditor initiates a lawsuit against you, hoping that you’ll ignore it, and you either fail to show up to court or lose the case, the creditor will have options at their disposal including garnishing your wages, attaching your bank account, seizing your property, and following up the lawsuit with post-judgment discovery, seeking detailed information about your personal finances.
Abstract of Judgment in Texas
An abstract of judgment is a written summary which states how much money a losing debtor owes to the winning creditor in a lawsuit. In addition to the amount of the judgment award, the abstract of judgment will include the rate of interest, court costs, and any specific orders that the judgment debtor must obey.
Per Texas Property Code §52.003, an abstract of judgment in Texas must also include the birthdate of the defendant/judgment debtor, the debtor’s driver’s license number and social security number, the debtor’s address, and the creditor’s address.
Abstract of judgment forms are available in each of Texas’ counties for you and your attorney to fill out. They are the next step for the winner of a judgment in Texas to collect on the sum.
The purpose of the abstract of judgment is to create a public record that automatically creates a lien or claim on any real estate property owned or later acquired by the judgment debtor in the county where the abstract is recorded.
A Texas creditor who wins a judgment can work with their attorney to file abstracts of judgment in as many counties as they think the debtor has attachable property – even if that means every county in Texas! The only exception is where the property is exempt (or out of reach) for a specific reason, such as being the debtor’s residence or certain personal effects.
Post-Judgment Discovery in Texas
Nearly all the tools of the law in terms of discovery come back into use after a judgment in Texas. Post-judgment discovery is like discovery during an active litigation.
Post-judgment discovery in Texas may include common tools used in civil or criminal cases such as depositions, interrogatories, requests for admissions, and demands for the production of documents. These can be used on the debtor or even on third parties with knowledge of the debtor’s assets, like accountants, bookkeepers, banks, title companies, insurance companies, law firms, partnerships, brokerage firms, and trustees.
The use of these powerful litigation tools has a precise end – to discover what assets the debtor possesses and what the debtor’s earning power might be, so that it can be used to pay the judgment against him or her.
How Long Can a Creditor Collect on a Judgment?
The abstract of judgment in Texas creates a lien on the property of the debtor. The lien continues for ten (10) years from the date of recording and indexing with the county, except in cases where the judgment becomes dormant during that period. See Texas Property Code §52.006.
A judgment becomes dormant where no writ of execution is filed attempting to collect on the judgment. If no writ of execution has been entered during the 10-year life of the abstract, an attorney can revive the judgment for you for an additional two years and start the process anew. See Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code §34.001; §34.006.
Judgment Lapses and Judgment Renewals
If a judgment creditor does not renew a judgment on time, then that judgment “lapses.” A judgment may also lapse if the creditor doesn’t do anything to execute that judgment for a certain period of time. When a judgment lapses (or becomes “dormant”), the creditor can no longer legally enforce it. That means a creditor cannot garnish your wages, attach your bank account, or seize your property. However, a Texas attorney can revive the judgment for an additional two years and start the process anew. See Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code §34.001; §34.006.
By way of a court order or filing of an affidavit or another document, the judgment can also be renewed for another cycle, or for another ten (10) years. The process can be repeated as needed as long as you stay on top of it, though most creditors will ramp up efforts to collect on a judgment by the end of a first cycle.
Therefore, many debtors, thinking themselves free and clear after years of not receiving a late credit card bill, suddenly find themselves receiving letters from attorneys nearly a decade after they stopped paying the bill.
How to Pay a Judgment Against You
Many debtors will wonder – how can I pay off a judgment against me, and get a mortgage, a car loan, a new job, or just move on with my life? If you have an outstanding judgment against you by a creditor, your attorney will likely be able to help you settle the matter for less.
This is because creditors would almost always rather have money from debtors up front than have to engage in such costly and lengthy procedures as those associated with filing abstracts of judgment and engaging in post-judgment discovery. Learning how to collect on a Texas judgment is very resource intensive.
You should consider working with an experienced attorney who will contact your creditor’s attorneys and help you figure out a way of paying a judgment debt that could involve a lump sum payment of a significantly lower figure, or manageable payments on the balance of the judgment stretched over time, or some combination of both.
Can You Settle a Judgment for Less?
Yes, you can agree to settle a judgment debt for less even after it has been handed down by the court. Often, counsel for debtors will work with creditors as tactical negotiators to reduce a debt payment amount or for payments that are more manageable.
It is critical to get any agreement in writing before you begin making payments. Make sure the agreement spells out all the terms of the settlement. Once the final payment is made, the creditor will file a Satisfaction of Judgment, which is a public document indicating that the matter has been closed.
Do You Owe Interest on Court Judgments?
Yes. Where the plaintiff prevails in his or her lawsuit, then, interest in Texas is designed to make the plaintiff whole for the full value of money he or she should have had since a wrong was committed. This is known as pre-judgment interest.
The answer to the next obvious question – how much interest can be charged on a judgment debt – is either an amount agreed by the parties when they formed a contractual relationship or, a default number set by law.
Additionally, post-judgment interest covers the period from when the plaintiff wins his or her lawsuit, to when they actually collect their compensation. Most lawsuits will involve a defendant having to pay both kinds of interest – pre-judgment interest and post-judgment interest – on court judgments.
Interest is also applied in the federal courts, under federal statute 28 U.S.C. 1961 governing the federal post-judgment interest rate on a money judgment in a civil case in a district court.
Contact the Law Offices of Seth Kretzer for Post-Judgment Help
If you or your client has won a judgment, or if you are a debtor with a judgment to pay, you will need a lawyer with specific experience on judgments in Texas and the right knowledge and resources to help you. Contact the Law Offices of Seth Kretzer online today or call us at 713-775-3050 to discuss your case.
Texas judgment collection attorney Seth Kretzer is on your side and knows how to help you pursue justice. He has experience with Texas judgment collection cases and will do everything in his power to help you!