A collection agent or law firm that owns a collection account is a creditor. A creditor has several legal means of collecting a debt. But before the creditor can start, the creditor must go to court to receive a judgment. See the Bills.com resource Served Summons and Complaint to learn more about this process.
The court may decide to grant a judgment to the creditor. A judgment is a declaration by a court that the creditor has the legal right to demand a wage garnishment, a levy on the debtor's bank accounts, and a lien on the debtor's property. A creditor that is granted a judgment is called a "judgment-creditor." Which of these tools the creditor will use depends on the circumstances. We discuss each of these remedies below.
The most common method used by judgment-creditors to enforce judgments is wage garnishment, in which a judgment creditor would contact the debtor's employer and require the employer to deduct a certain portion of the debtor's wages each pay period and send the money to the creditor. However, several states, including Texas, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and South Carolina, do not allow wage garnishment for the enforcement of most judgments. In several other states, such as New Hampshire, wage garnishment is not the "preferred" method of judgment enforcement because, although possible, it is a tedious and time consuming process for creditors.
In most states, creditors are allowed to garnish between 10% and 25% of your wages, with the percentage allowed being determined by each state.
Alabama garnishment rules are found in Title 35 Chapter 11 Article 5. In general, Alabma follows the federal rules for the amount of a garnishment, which allows up to 25% of a worker's wages to be garnished. See the Dept. of Labor's Employment Law Guide - Wage Garnishment and the Dept. of the Treasury's Answers About Garnishments. Municipal and state employees may be garnished.
Generally speaking, 401k or other retirement funds are exempt from garnishment. It is advisable to have those funds specifically deposited into a separate bank account to ensure financial accounting if you are concerned with a garnishment on those payments. However, there appears to be no provision for life insurance.
If you reside in another state, see the Bills.com Wage Garnishment article to learn more.
Levy Bank Accounts
A levy means that the creditor has the right to take whatever money in a debtor's account and apply the funds to the balance of the judgment. Again, the procedure for levying bank accounts, as well as what amount, if any, a debtor can claim as exempt from the levy, is governed by state law. Many states exempt certain amounts and certain types of funds from bank levies, so a debtor should review his or her state's laws to find if a bank account can be levied. In some states levy is called attachment or account garnishment. The names may vary but the concept is the same.
In Alabama, administrative levy is allowed under for recovery of taxes and unpaid child support. In Alabama, levy of bank accounts is called garnishment. AlabamaLegalHelp.org offers online court forms a consumer can complete to request to stop a garnishment of a bank account.
If you reside in another state, see the Bills.com Account Levy resource to learn more about the general rules for this remedy.
A lien is an encumbrance -- a claim -- on a property. For example, if the debtor owns a home, a creditor with a judgment has the right to place a lien on the home, meaning that if the debtor sells or refinance the home, the debtor will be required to pay the judgment out of the proceeds of the sale or refinance. If the amount of the judgment is more than the amount of equity in your home, then the lien may prevent the debtor from selling or refinancing until the debtor can pay off the judgment.
Alabama laws governing liens are Title 35, Chapter 11. Under Section 6-9-211, "Every judgment, a certificate of which has been filed as provided in Section 6-9-210, shall be a lien in the county where filed on all property of the defendant which is subject to levy and sale under execution, and such lien shall continue for 10 years after the date of such judgment..." Mechanics and contractors (and similar laborers and professionals) have the right to place a lien on a property.
If you reside in another state, see the Bills.com Liens & How to Resolve Them article to learn more.
Alabama Statutes of Limitations
Each state has is own statute of limitations on judgments. Statute of Limitations for Alabama is Title 6, Chapter 2. The statute of limits for open accounts (credit cards) is three years (Section 6-2-37), written contracts are six or 10 years depending on the circumstances (Section 6-2-33 and 6-2-34), and spoken contracts are six years.
See the Bills.com resource Alabama foreclosure to learn more about the rules surrounding foreclosure in this state.
Consult with an Alabama attorney experienced in civil litigation to get precise answers to your questions about liens, levies, and garnishment in Alabama.
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