Collecting a debt can be frustrating when the person who owes you won’t even respond, let alone pay you back. If you own a small business, collecting can be essential to keeping your doors open.
There are different ways an attorney can help you get the money you’re owed. They might start by trying what you’ve tried – sending a letter, for example. Often, when it comes from your attorney rather than you, it’s enough to motivate the debtor to pay up. When that doesn’t work, a good debt collection attorney should move right to the next step and file a lawsuit. If they can get a judgment in your favor (a court ruling that you are owed the money) then there are things you can do to force payment.
Debt collection attorneys often send notice to the debtor, detailing the history of the debt and most importantly giving a deadline for payment. The letter often says that legal action will be taken if the debt is not paid by the deadline. If there is no response, or a less than ideal response, your attorney shouldn’t hesitate to file a lawsuit demanding payment. If you’ve had a debtor who has been ignoring you, this might get their attention. And even if it doesn’t, you can still move forward without their response. If they fail to respond to your lawsuit within a certain amount of time, you can win by default. The judge will rule in your favor.
After a judge has issued a judgment in your debt collection case, there are steps you can take to collect your money. Wage garnishment, putting a lien on property or having the debtor’s bank pay you from the debtor’s bank account are possible options. For example, wage garnishment allows you to take up to a percentage (usually 15%) of the debtor’s pay. The employer deducts the wages, and the amount has to be approved by a judge. If you don’t know anything about the debtor, your attorney can help you go through the court to discover what assets a debtor has, where they work, etc.
Don’t assume that you’re out of luck because someone owes you money and they refuse to pay or they claim they don’t have the money to pay. Debt collection attorneys often charge a contingency fee, which means that you pay them a portion of what they’re able to recover for you. This also means you don’t have to pay anything up front, and there is no fee if they aren’t able to get you your money. Some debt collection attorneys will charge hourly. It depends on the debt you’re owed and who owes you. Either way, an initial consultation should be free and it’s a great way to learn more about these options.
Written by Michael Helfand