Select Page
BCU Podcast EP 02 Thumbnail

Turning Judgments into Dollars: A Step-by-Step Guide for Creditors

by | Dec 12, 2023


[00:00:05] Blair Boyd: Welcome, Jim. It’s great to be able to sit down here with you and discuss different issues. And I know today we’re going to about, final judgments, and what a credit do to to collect on it.

[00:00:16] So welcome to Banking on Credit Unions. I am Blair Boyd and I’m sitting down with my partner, Jim Sorenson.

[00:00:21] This is where we discuss the credit union industry and the issues and challenges facing them an changing environment. I did want to remind everyone to go to our website, SVLLaw. com, where you can find all of our podcasts as well as a host of other information on us. And what we do. So back to the show.

[00:00:39] Welcome, Jim. How how’s it going today?

[00:00:41] Jim Sorenson: It’s going great. Going great. I’m excited to be here to talk about the law and credit unions. And so what are we talking about today?

[00:00:49] Blair Boyd: Today? I want discuss final judgments and give a step guide on what a credit union can do to try to collect on that, as I’ve heard, and we’ve always said sometimes [00:01:00] getting the final judgment is the easy part. Now trying to actually get and squeeze the money and get. Get paid on it is the actual difficult part. First off, what is is a final judgment?

[00:01:10] Jim Sorenson: Yeah, that’s a great and one I often misunderstood. It’s misunderstood certainly by the public at large. But it’s misunderstood by our clients and people who’ve worked in the industry for a while. And final judgment is simply an order of the court that someone owes somebody money. So in the case of our clients, it’s that a borrower, a member, owes them money on a judgment.

[00:01:36] And so it’s legal proclamation, a legal determination that money is owed. And once you have a final judgment, it opens you up or allows you to take advantage of certain remedies under the law. But it does not result in payment. It’s not a specific order by the court that the debtor has to pay you.

[00:01:59] It’s just [00:02:00] an order that the debtor owes you money. There are no defenses anymore to that debt. That debt is parties really can’t argue about the what is actually owed. The court has made that determination.

[00:02:10] Blair Boyd: How long is a judgment good for, here in Florida?

[00:02:13] Jim Sorenson: Yeah. So in Florida, judgement is good for 20 years. But that’s gonna vary from state to state. Different states have different laws on this. The life of a judgment or the statute of limitations of a judgment. So in Florida, it’s 20 years. In Georgia, where I’m also licensed and we practice is seven years. So quite a difference in Florida and Georgia. And like I said, other states would have their own timetables on that.

[00:02:42] Blair Boyd: What is the first steps a credit union should do once a final judgment is entered?

[00:02:47] Jim Sorenson: Yeah so once they obtain a final judgement, the first step that needs to happen is to get that final judgment recorded so it is a [00:03:00] lien on the debtor’s non exempt property.

[00:03:03] So if John Doe, if the credit union ABC credit union gets a judgment against John Doe. Then, ABC credit union wants to know that judgment is a lien on John Doe’s non exempt assets. And so, each state again, this is going to vary but in Florida what you have to do is there are it’s a two step process.

[00:03:25] So, if we’re talking about Real estate, real property, that judgment to be a lien must be recorded in the public record where the real property is located, and that judgment has to be certified, meaning it’s a certified copy of the judgment, and then it must be recorded. And that creates what we call a judgment lien on all non exempt property in the county where it’s recorded in Florida if you wanted to you could record it in all 67 counties of Florida usually that’s not done.

[00:03:58] Usually it’s recorded in the [00:04:00] county where the debtor resides but if we knew if a debtor lived in Leon County where we’re located. And we knew that they had property over in Panama City. They had a vacation rental or a vacation property over in Panama City in Bay County. We could record that judgment in Bay County and that becomes a lien, or would become a lien on any non exempt real property they own in Bay County.

[00:04:24] For personal property, as a general rule, the way you get a lien on personal property in Florida is you record the lien. You record a judgment lien certificate with the Florida Secretary of State and that judgment lien certificate is good on most personal property throughout the state of Florida.

[00:04:44] Georgia’s a little bit different in recording a lien. In Georgia, there’s what’s called a writ of fife. And that writ of fife has to be issued by the clerk after you obtain the judgment. And that writ of fife is documented or in the county. Where the property is located [00:05:00] and that creates a lien on the debtor’s non exempt property.

[00:05:03] So it’s, again, it involves recording. just a different process in Georgia and like I said, each state would have their own process. If that judgment was taken to another state, their process would be a little different than Florida and Georgia.

[00:05:18] Blair Boyd: What is the time — how long is this lien good for?

[00:05:22] Jim Sorenson: Yeah, so the judgment liens are good for, again, this is gonna vary from state to state. It’s also gonna vary the type of lien. In Georgia, your liens are good for the life of the judgment, seven years. Judgment’s good for seven years, the lien’s good for the life of the judgment. It’s a same timetable, seven years, it’s simpler.

[00:05:39] Florida has these differing time periods. While your judgment is good for 20 years. The judgment lien on real property is only good for 10 years. And the judgment lien on personal property is only good for 5 years. So your judgment itself could outlast or outlive the actual [00:06:00] judgment lien in Florida.

[00:06:01] Blair Boyd: But what’s a good place to start if you don’t have much information on a defendant once that final judgment is entered?

[00:06:08] Jim Sorenson: Yeah, so the, ABC Credit Union has a judgment against John Doe. John Doe owes the credit union $12,133.53. Just made that off the top of my head.

[00:06:21] And so the question is how do we get John Doe to pay? And what happens a lot of times is the information the client had at the time they made the loan to John Doe. Is now stale. It’s several years old. We may not know where John Doe now works. We don’t know where he now banks because he’s defaulted on his loans and stopped paying and probably moved bank accounts.

[00:06:43] And so the credit union doesn’t have enough information on how to go about garnishing, or levying in order to get the judgment paid. So they’ve got to be engaged in what we call discovery. More particularly post judgment discovery. And this can be done [00:07:00] through the courts or it can be done outside the courts.

[00:07:03] There’s ways to do asset searches and look through property records and find certain information outside of the court. But there’s some things that can only be uncovered or obtained through the court. And that really is the post judgment discovery. You have a couple different methods to get information.

[00:07:20] You can send the debtor, borrower, defendant the interrogatories. These are written questions that they must answer under oath. So we can ask questions like, where are you currently employed? What is your rate of pay? How often are you paid? Where do you bank? What’s your bank account? We can ask questions like that.

[00:07:38] They’re required to answer them. We can also request documents, production of documents. So we can request copies of their tax returns. We can request bank records. We can request pay stubs. We can request information on real estate property and the like. We can also depose the debtor, depositions where the debtor is forced to appear [00:08:00] at a set time and place and be questioned under oath in front of a court reporter so the court reporter transcribes the conversation, the questions and the answers down at the deposition we can include with that a request for production where they have to bring documents in and then we can Ask them questions about the documents.

[00:08:21] What’s this 10, 000 leaving your account? Where did that go? What were you using that for? Those types of questions. And then we can also subpoena information from third parties. If we know they’re banking at Bank of America, we could go and uh, request bank statements or banking records from Bank of America or whatever the case may be.

[00:08:43] All that process of post judgment discovery is how we gather information on a debtor and try to determine, can they pay this debt? How collectible are they? What are the options to force payment of the debt?

[00:08:57] Blair Boyd: Now I know in Florida — well, [00:09:00] I’m sure in most places. There’s no such thing as debtor’s prison anymore. You can’t put anybody to jail for not paying a debt. But is there a way that — or is there an outcome where a defendant could be actually held in contempt taken into custody for not helping in this process?

[00:09:20] Jim Sorenson: Yes, there is. And you’re right. This is an area that I think sometimes causes confusion.

[00:09:25] But there is no debtor’s prison in America. You can’t go to prison for not paying your debts. But you can end up in prison, or you can end up in jail I guess more I guess more accurately. You you can end up incarcerated because you’ve ignored the court orders and court processes. So in, like I said, the law requires a defendant, or the judgment debtor to respond to this discovery.

[00:09:50] And so if the defendant is found to be in contempt of court, meaning they’re intentionally [00:10:00] failing to abide by a lawful court order and they’re just refusing to cooperate, The judge can order that they be held in in jail incarcerated pending their cooperation and that cooperation can come in various forms.

[00:10:18] It is not uncommon that we see defendants end up incarcerated because they did not abide by the court order. Now this takes several steps. And our clients who are familiar with this sometimes get frustrated that it takes so long. But the idea of locking somebody up, taking away their freedom should not be easy.

[00:10:39] And it’s not. But it can reach that serious level and what always amazes us and what certainly amazes new employees who come to work for us or clients who are new to this process, or maybe they’re employees who are new to this process they’re amazed that people allow it to reach this point because at this point they’ve had to have ignored a lot of mail [00:11:00] and a lot of notices from our office and from the court and sheriff having visited them and warned them. And they still ignore it.

[00:11:08] Blair Boyd: The classic, I’m gonna stick my head in the sand and just hope it goes away.

[00:11:12] Jim Sorenson: Yes. And and then of course, we get the call from the family member. How dare you throw Johnny in jail for not paying his debt. That’s that’s not what Johnny’s in jail for.

[00:11:22] Johnny’s in jail because he ignored everything that has been sent to him. And this process, unfortunately. From our client’s perspective, and it takes time and money to get to the end of the process, and we certainly don’t want to see the defendants incarcerated because that doesn’t resolve the debt.

[00:11:41] But we need them to provide the information, we need that to assess their ability to pay and and obviously to enforce our client’s rights under the judgment.

[00:11:52] Blair Boyd: Now you mentioned earlier garnishment give us a brief overview. What is a garnishment?

[00:11:57] Jim Sorenson: So a garnishment is a post [00:12:00] judgment remedy. It exists in most states. I can’t say all states. I don’t know, but Florida and Georgia both have garnishments. The process is a little bit different between each states, but they’re generally the same thing. And what a garnishment is the process by which a creditor, a judgment creditor is able to reach her either monies in the hands of third parties that belong to the judgment debtor, or, yes, like a bank account, or a stream of income like wages or salaries.

[00:12:34] And so those are the two most common types of garnishments are bank account garnishments and what we’d call wage garnishments. But there’s other examples of garnishments that can come into play. Those are just the most common.

[00:12:47] Blair Boyd: Sure. What are there any exemptions that a debtor or creditor or a judgment debtor would have in a garnishment action?

[00:12:55] Jim Sorenson: Yes, and these can vary from state to state, and they [00:13:00] also, some, Exemptions exist under federal law. So this is what makes collections a little bit complicated is you have federal law which provides certain exemptions. For example, you cannot garnish social security benefits from somebody.

[00:13:16] That’s a common example of a federal garnishment protection. But there’s also state exemptions. So in Georgia, there is not an exemption on wages. So you can, aside from any limitations at the federal level, there’s no supplemental Georgia protection of wages of garnishment. But in Florida, we have what’s called the head of household or head of family exemption.

[00:13:42] And what that exemption is that you cannot garnish the wages of a head of household without their consent. And, of course, the definite the issue that comes up is who’s the head of the household? What qualifies someone to be the head of the household? And there’s a definition in the [00:14:00] statute that says if someone provides more than half the support for a dependent then they qualify as a head of household.

[00:14:08] But, there’s questions about are they really providing half the support? Of a dependent, what is a dependent, unfortunately, those are some things that are left up to the court to decide and those things can be litigated and debated and judges have to decide on the individual facts of a case.

[00:14:26] Blair Boyd: Yep. And I know, from my experience, a lot of judges usually tend to side on the favor of the judgment debtor in these type of situations. But yeah it’s some can be tough. What are other option? I know we mentioned a levy explained to us what that is and the process that accrediting you can do to levy some sort of personal property?

[00:14:47] Jim Sorenson: Yeah. So a levy is another post judgment remedy. It’s the process by where the creditor is able to have property of the judgment debtor seized and sold to [00:15:00] satisfy the judgment. So that property could be everything from real property, real estate, you can levy on real estate, or it could be personal property, we could levy on a car, we could levy on jewelry, we could levy on.

[00:15:15] Blair Boyd: Farm animals?

[00:15:16] Jim Sorenson: Farm animals, yes. Farm animals. Yep. And I’ve done that before. We once, long time ago, levied on five horses, or at least started the process to levy on five horses. And the matter ended up getting resolved. One, levying on livestock is very expensive. It’s not like a car.

[00:15:38] And the creditor has to pay to store what you’re levying upon. While the levy process takes effect. So for those who aren’t familiar the sheriff goes out and seizes the property Stores it there’s advertisement of the sheriff’s sale and the sheriff sales conducted and that process may take 30 days. And so in the case of a car the sheriff’s got [00:16:00] you know places to store a car. But the sheriffs in Florida generally don’t have places to store horses or cattle or you know whatever you want to that would be livestock animals.

[00:16:11] And so the sheriff has to find a farm to keep the horses. That’s going to cost money. So when to feed the horses, they have to have the horses checked by a vet to make sure they’re healthy because the sheriff’s on the hook for if anything happens to the property while it’s in the sheriff’s possession, the sheriff could be liable.

[00:16:29] The sheriff doesn’t want the horses dying and find out after the fact that they had some disease they weren’t. Once we started down that road and the client saw how much it was going to cost didn’t really make sense. The debtor was willing to offer a settlement and that matter got resolved, but, we almost went through with levying and five horses.

[00:16:49] That would have been, that would have been interesting. And obviously one of the more unique situations I’ve run into.

[00:16:54] Blair Boyd: I bet. Are there any exemptions in a levy?

[00:16:57] Jim Sorenson: Yeah. So the, again, the exemptions [00:17:00] are going to vary from state to state. So in Florida, Florida is what’s known as debtor’s haven or debtor’s heaven.

[00:17:07] So different than Georgia. Georgia has less exemptions. Georgia, there’s a homestead exemption in Georgia. Your homestead exemption in Georgia for the purposes of levy, if you were to go levy on the debtor’s home they have a $21,500 exemption in the property. In Florida’s exemption is not based on a dollar amount for homestead.

[00:17:28] It’s based on the size of the land. The lot, the real estate. So if you live outside the city limits it’s 160 acres. If you’re inside city limits, it’s a half an acre. And it does depend upon, if you bought the property and you lived outside of the city limits and then you got annexed in, the rule that’s going to apply to you is, where was it located?

[00:17:50] When you bought the property so if I acquire a property when it’s in the county and then later the City annexes is in I don’t lose my exemption by the annexation by the [00:18:00] City. So florida’s exemption. It doesn’t matter what the property’s worth. So you could you know have a shack on a 160 acres and it’s exempt or you could have the Taj Mahal, 160 acres and it’s exempt.

[00:18:13] And then when you get into other types of properties, you have exemptions. There are some general exemptions in Florida and Georgia for personal property. There’s exemptions for certain unique items. But as a general rule, the big exemptions are on homestead, real estate. On your car in Florida, you’ve got an exemption of $1,000 per owner.

[00:18:35] So if you got two people owning a car, they could exempt 2, 000. There’s some other exemptions they might be able to stack on top. So there are exemptions that play in and those guide you on whether or not it makes sense to levy on a vehicle.

[00:18:50] Blair Boyd: Sure. Especially, if they still owe another lien holder on that as well.

[00:18:54] Jim Sorenson: Right. The levy is going to be subject to any outstanding lien. So if they owe [00:19:00] Bank of America 20, 000 on the F 150 and the credit union’s levying upon it, that truck better be worth more than the 20, 000 and the cost of the levy and the potential exemptions that the debtor might raise.

[00:19:12] Blair Boyd: Yeah. Okay. I know we touched on liens on property at the beginning. What about, is there anything unique we could do on vehicles after a judgment is entered?

[00:19:23] Jim Sorenson: Yeah. Vehicles are things like vehicles. What we would call titled property that has a certificate of title whether we’re talking Florida or Georgia.

[00:19:33] There is a process in each state on the ability to get a judgment recorded on the title, get a judgment lien recorded on the title. So if the member borrower judgment debtor has a car that is under lien to Ford Motor Credit, that F 150, and the credit union wants to get a second lien on the vehicle, that would prevent them from being able to trade it in, refinance it, sell it.[00:20:00]

[00:20:00] They can do that. And so there’s a process in a way to get a judgment lien recorded on the title. In Florida it does require a court, a motion and an order of the court. In Georgia it’s much simpler. We can simply take a judgment that we have and send it off to the Department of Revenue.

[00:20:17] And with pay the small fee and you get your lien recorded. So Georgia is much more streamlined in that regard. And again, this would apply, I’m using vehicles as the example here, but this would apply to any other title property in the state. So in Florida, a boat that’s titled, and an RV, those types of things would apply as well.

[00:20:38] Blair Boyd: All right. I know, we hit on some of the big areas there. Anything else you think we missed, we need to talk about?

[00:20:44] Jim Sorenson: I think, we talk about this with our clients all the time. If in the world for credit unions where they have a lot of judgments. Because judgments have a long life, seven years in Georgia 20 [00:21:00] years in Florida and when we say the judgment life is seven and 20 years, of course They can be renewed.

[00:21:06] They can be extended beyond that. You can file an action on a judgment that’s about to expire and you can extend it another 20 years in Florida and Georgia. You can extend it another 7 years. Because judgments can have these long lives it becomes really important that the credit union have a way and a process in place on how to manage those judgments.

[00:21:33] If what happens a lot of times is the credit union changes management, the leadership team of the collection department changes, and they can’t tell you what judgments were obtained five years ago, ten years ago, fifteen years ago. If we’re talking about Florida, fifteen years ago, that judgement obtained 15 years ago is still [00:22:00] good.

[00:22:00] With a lot of interest and that judgment debtor may now be on their feet. They may now be in a position to pay the judgment off or at least settle a substantial amount of that judgment, and so the credit union really needs to, if they’re going to spend the time and effort and money to obtain a judgment.

[00:22:21] They need a process in place On managing these judgment management and this is something that I talk about a lot with our clients I’ve written about it. I’ve spoken about it it’s a lot of work to set it up and do it, right? And unfortunately most clients most credit unions I see don’t do it, right?

[00:22:45] But there are some that do and those that do Are collecting more money and making more money. And to me, it’s crucial if you’re going to do this. And if I could stress one thing to anyone [00:23:00] listening to this who is in charge of a collection department, or has any say over what a collection department does, it would be that thing.

[00:23:07] Do, does that collection department have a good process for tracking judgments and making sure they’re being handled and worked and leveraged, for money, recoveries… That to me is the one thing that is often overlooked in this process. They worry about how are we going to collect the money? How are we making sure we have the right lawyer hired?

[00:23:31] And those things are all important. Of course. But if you don’t have this process, the rest of it doesn’t matter.

[00:23:37] Blair Boyd: Yep. Very true. Very true. As always, it’s great to sit down and talk with you. I want to remind everyone to go and subscribe our podcast. You can find it at

[00:23:51] And great! Thanks for talking with you, Jim.

[00:23:54] Jim Sorenson: Yep.

Getting judgment against a debtor is just the first step to getting paid – the real work starts afterward. In this information-packed episode of Banking on Credit Unions, hosts Jim Sorensen and Blair Boyd walk through the legal processes and remedies creditors can use to satisfy judgments.

You’ll learn the nuts and bolts of recording liens on real and personal property to secure your interests. Jim and Blair outline garnishment procedures for capturing wages and bank account funds and discuss levy options for seizing everything from real estate to livestock. With plenty of real-world examples and practice tips, they cover debtor exemptions that can limit collections and stress the importance of having an effective judgment management system.

If you lend money and struggle turning judgments into dollars, this episode is a must-listen. Tune in to pick up step-by-step strategies to make the most of your legal rights.

Other subjects we covered on the show:

  • The definition of a final judgment and how long judgments last in Florida vs. Georgia.
  • Recording judgments to create liens on real and personal property.
  • Using post-judgment discovery to uncover debtor assets and income sources.
  • When debtors can be held in contempt of court for ignoring orders.
  • The process of levying personal property like cars, jewelry, and livestock.
  • Homestead and other exemptions that can limit collections.
  • Getting liens attached to vehicle titles to prevent sale or trade-in.
  • Options for renewing and extending judgments nearing expiration.
  • The importance of tracking judgments long-term and having a management system.


You can check out the full episode and subscribe at

If you want to know more about the SVL Law Team, reach out at

Listen On
Plan B in Chapter 13: Post-Confirmation Modifications

Plan B in Chapter 13: Post-Confirmation Modifications

Need a backup plan for your Chapter 13 bankruptcy? Tune into this episode of Banking on Credit Unions as Attorneys Jim Sorensen and Blair Boyd discuss options for post-confirmation modifications. When a debtor runs into trouble after their Chapter 13 plan is...

Behind the First: Winning Moves for Second Mortgage Holders

Behind the First: Winning Moves for Second Mortgage Holders

When a second mortgage goes into default, the options for lenders are complex. Foreclosure? Wait for the first to foreclose? Or just sue on the note?  On this episode of Banking on Credit Unions, hosts and Attorneys Jim Sorensen and Steve Orsillo dive into the...

Navigating the Legal Landmines of Collections Communication

Navigating the Legal Landmines of Collections Communication

Collecting delinquent debt is a tricky business—make one misstep communicating with borrowers, and you could face serious legal consequences. In this Banking on Credit Unions episode, Attorneys Jim Sorensen and Steve Orsillo walk through the ins and outs of...

Breaking Down New Laws: Florida’s Impact on Credit Unions

Breaking Down New Laws: Florida’s Impact on Credit Unions

The Banking on Credit Unions podcast is hosted by Attorney Jim Sorensen. This week's special c-host is Attorney Stephen Orsillo and together, our experts at Sorenson Van Leuven Law Firm tackle some of the new laws that impact credit unions in Florida. Attorneys Jim...

Navigating Bankruptcy: Key Strategies for Credit Unions

Navigating Bankruptcy: Key Strategies for Credit Unions

When a credit union member files for bankruptcy, it can present challenges for the credit union. In this episode of Banking on Credit Unions, hosts Jim Sorensen and Blair Boyd offer key insights to help credit unions successfully navigate member bankruptcies. This...

An Introduction to Banking on Credit Unions Podcast

An Introduction to Banking on Credit Unions Podcast

In this premiere episode of Banking on Credit Unions, host Jim Sorenson and the legal experts at SVL Law provide a comprehensive primer on navigating the complex world of credit union law. As the rules and regulations are constantly changing, it's essential for...