Arizona Collection Laws

What are my rights and liabilities regarding debt in Arizona?

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Bill's Answer: Answered by Mark Cappel

In Arizona, you can have your wages garnished and your property could be at risk, if a creditor has a judgment against you. In Arizona, a creditor has several legal means for collecting on a debt.

If an Arizona court grants a creditor a judgment against you, then the creditor has the legal right to demand a wage garnishment, a levy on the your bank accounts, and a lien on the your property. Which of these tools the judgment-creditor will use depends on the circumstances. We discuss each of these remedies below.

Arizona Wage Garnishment

Wage garnishment is the most common method judgment-creditors use to enforce judgments. A judgment-creditor sends legal documents to your employer and requires it to withhold a certain amount of your wages each pay period and send that to the judgment-creditor.

Wise Advice In most states, creditors are allowed to garnish between 10% and 25% of your wages, with the percentage allowed being determined by each state. Garnishment of Social Security benefits or pensions for consumer debt is not allowed under federal law. See the Bills.com Wage Garnishment article to learn more.

In Arizona, wage garnishment is allowed under Arizona Title 12, Chapter 9, Article 4.1 12-1598. If the judgment-creditor is aware of your place of employment, it may seek wage garnishment.

The maximum you can be garnished for a consumer debt in Arizona is 25%, the same as under federal law. The garnishment applies to 25% of the your net, take home pay (your gross pay less certain required deductions). A calculation, that takes 25% of disposable income and minimum wage into consideration, determines the correct garnishment amount (see Title 12, Chapter 9, Article 4.1 12-1598.16 for the exact calculation. Garnishment can occur only you have received a 10-day’s notice.

However, under Arizona Title 12, Chapter 5.1, Article 2 A.R.S. § 12-592, periodic installments for future damages for loss of earnings or loss of support for beneficiaries of a judgment entered in a wrongful death action are exempt from garnishment, attachment, execution and any other process or claim to the extent wages or earnings are exempt under any applicable law. Periodic installments for all other future damages are exempt under garnishment, attachment, execution and any other process or claim except to the extent they may be assigned pursuant to section 12-591.

Garnishment is allowed for child support under Arizona Title 33, Chapter 8, Article 2 33-1131. Definition; wages; salary; compensation.

Levy Bank Accounts

A levy means that the creditor has the right to take money in your bank 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. Some states call levy attachment or garnishment.

In Arizona, levy for family support is allowed under Arizona Title 25, Chapter 5, Article 1 25-521. If there is a court-ordered judgment or if the obligor is in arrears in an amount equal to twelve months of support, the department may issue a levy and collect the amount owed by the obligor by levy on all property and rights to property not exempt under federal or state law.

Arizona levy laws are also found in Title 23, Chapter 4, Article 5 23-752, and 23-755. What Arizona calls its levy law covers what other states consider garnishment. Personal property and wages can be seized under Arizona Title 23, Chapter 4, Article 5.

If you reside in another state, see the Bills.com Account Levy resource to learn more about the general rules for this remedy.

Lien

A lien is an encumbrance — a claim — on a property. For example, if your own a home, a creditor with a judgment has the right to place a lien on your home. That means if you try to sell or refinance your home, the creditor can require that you pay it off or you transaction will be stopped. If the amount of the judgment is more than the amount of equity in your home, then the lien may prevent you from selling or refinancing until the debtor can pay off the judgment.

Under Arizona Title 33, Chapter 7, Article 5 A.R.S. § 33-964, a judgment shall become a lien for a period of five years from the date it is given, on all real property of the judgment debtor except real property exempt from execution, including homestead property, in the county in which the judgment is recorded, whether the property is then owned by you or is later acquired. A judgment lien for support, as defined in section 25-500, remains in effect until satisfied or lifted.

If you reside in another state, see the Bills.com Liens & How to Resolve Them article to learn more.

Arizona Statutes of Limitations

Each state has is own statute of limitations rules for debt. Arizona law regarding consumer accounts is found in Title 12, Chapter 5, Article 3. The statute of limitations for oral contracts is 3 years (A.R.S. § 12-543), written contracts is 6 years (A.R.S. § 12-546), and credit cards is 6 years (A.R.S. § 12-548). For credit cards, A.R.S. § 12-548 specifically carves out exceptions where, in some cases, a shorter statute of limitations may apply. (The statute of limitations for credit cards was 3 years prior to 2011.)

Arizona Title 47 contains three references to statutes of limitations relating to property:

  • Default Under a Lease Contract, must be commenced within four years after the cause of action accrued. See Chapter 2A, Article 5 A.R.S. § 47-2A506.
  • Breach of any Contract for Sale, must be commenced within four years after the cause of action has accrued. See Chapter 2, Article 7 A.R.S. § 47-2725.
  • Taxpayer’s obligations for any tax, interest or penalty required to be collected by the department for any tax period are extinguished, if not previously satisfied, six years after the amount of tax determined to be due becomes final unless extenuating circumstances apply. See Title 42, Chapter 2, Article 2 A.R.S. § 42-2066.
Wise Advice Collection agents violate the FDCPA if they file a debt collection lawsuit against a consumer after the statute of limitation expired (Kimber v. Federal Financial Corp. 668 F.Supp. 1480 (1987) and Basile v. Blatt, Hasenmiller, Liebsker & Moore LLC, 632 F. Supp. 2d 842, 845 (2009)). Unscrupulous collection agents sue in hopes the consumer will not know this rule.

Regarding judgments, a judgment-creditor has 5 years to enforce a judgment unless the judgment is renewed. See A.R.S. § 12-1551(B). A judgment may be renewed by filing an action to enforce the judgment or by filing an affidavit with the court within 90 days before the expiration of the 5-year period. See § 12-1611 and A.R.S. § 12-1612.

Arizona Foreclosure

Arizona foreclosure laws are found in Title 33, Chapter 6, Article 2.

Under Arizona law, a lender may be prevented from suing the borrower for the deficiency following a foreclosure. However, Arizona’s anti-deficiency laws are tricky. Under Arizona A.R.S. § 33-814, a homeowner is liable for a deficiency judgment if they have not resided in their home for six consecutive months. A deficiency on a purchase-money mortgage is not allowed on residential property if a single one-family or single two-family dwelling that is on 2.5 acres or less (33-814G).

The Arizona anti-deficiency laws apply to second mortgages and deeds of trust if they are purchase money loans (Baker v. Gardner, 160 Ariz. at 104, 770 P.2d; and Ross Realty Co. v. First Citizens Bank & Trust, 296 N.C. 366, 250 S.E.2d 271, 275 (1979); and Nydam v. Crawford, 181 Ariz. 101, 887 P.2d 631 (App. 1994)). A deficiency is allowed if the value of the house has declined because the homeowner has committed waste (33-814A). Consult with an Arizona attorney with experience in property law to understand your rights and liabilities in your situation.

Community Property & Arizona Law

Arizona is one of the 10 community property states. Regarding debts, this means if a married Arizona debtor individually signs a contract at the time he or she is married, both the debtor and spouse have liability to repay the debt, with a few exceptions.

Analysis of spousal debt is complicated. According to the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law, "All property owned by each spouse before marriage is the separate property of that spouse. (A.R.S. § 25-213). The statutes also provide that any inheritance and income earned from rents, issues, and profits of separate property during marriage are separate property. Case law has established certain other acquisitions as separate property as well. These are:

  • "Purchases made with separate funds or property
  • "Professional degrees and license
  • "Damages or benefits for personal injuries, and
  • "Certain federal retirement benefits such as social security"

Upon divorce, property be divided approximately equally (A.R.S. § 25-318).

Creditors may not use the separate property of a spouse to satisfy a separate debt of the other spouse. Community property is available to creditors to pay the separate debt of a spouse if the debt was incurred before the marriage and after September 1, 1973, but only to the extent of that spouse’s contribution to the community property that would have been such spouse’s separate property if single (A.R.S. § 25-215).

Arizona Collection Agency Law

Arizona adds protections not found in the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Arizona law requires collection agencies:

  • Be licensed in Arizona and provide a bond
  • "...deal openly, fairly and honestly..." in their business

Arizona collection agent licensees may not:

  • "Engage in any unfair or misleading practices"
  • Use any "oppressive, vindictive or illegal" collection methods
  • Send any written communication that imitates any form of judicial process from a court, government entity, or lawyer
  • Represent the debt collector practices law or maintains a legal department unless the collector is, in fact, also licensed to practice law
  • Attempt to collect any collection fee, attorney's fee, court cost or expenses the debtor is not legally obligated to pay
  • Misrepresent the amount of the existing debt or falsely stating that if the debt is not paid, the debtor will incur additional attorney fees, investigation fees, service fees, or any other additional charge
  • Give the impression the debt collector represents the state
  • Say the Arizona government or any state agency endorses its activities

Violation of these laws is a class 1 misdemeanor. If you have been victimized by a collection agency, file a report of the violation with your local city or county district attorney or prosecutor. Also consult with a lawyer to discuss filing a civil lawsuit against the collection agent. Some lawyers take these cases on a contingency basis, which means no out-of-pocket costs to you. These limits and prohibitions can be found in A.R.S. § 32-1001 to 32-1057.

Recommendation

Consult with an Arizona attorney experienced in civil litigation to get precise answers to your questions about liens, levies, garnishment, foreclosure, and community property law in Arizona.

I hope this information helps you Find. Learn & Save.

Best,

Bill

Bills.com

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Comments (102)


Renee F.
Tucson, AZ  |  April 23, 2014
I just married and we put my husband on my bank account. We just received a levy on the bank account for over $4000.00 for back taxes. My question is this: first neither of us are working at the moment so we have no income. At the moment the only money going into this account is school loan money and child support. Do I have any way to put a stop to this?
Bills.com
April 23, 2014
For the benefit of other readers, Renee's story here shows why Bills.com recommends people keep separate financial accounts. It is much more difficult, or in some cases impossible, for a judgment-creditor to levy the account of a non-debtor spouse.

You mentioned residing in Arizona and delinquent taxes. I will assume the tax authority is the IRS. The IRS follows state family law when it comes to levying the account of a spouse. Arizona is a community property state. Therefore, even if you had kept your accounts separate, it's possible the IRS would have levied this account anyway, even if the spouse with the delinquent tax debt was not the account owner or co-owner.

What to do? Start by reading the Bills.com article Levy From IRS to understand what just happened to you, how you could have prevented it, and what you can do to resolve this situation.
Stephanie X.
Tempe, AZ  |  March 08, 2014
We lost a lawsuit and now are being faced with garnishment. My husband is the sole provider for our family of 5. I read that most states (haven't been able to confirm AZ) have a Head of Household exemption if you provide 50% or more support to dependents. First, does that exist in Arizona? If so, does that make my husbands salary exempt or they reduce the amount being garnished?

Second, if your salary does become exempt does that mean they can't touch levy your bank account in which that salary is deposited?

Lastly, can a payment agreement be submitted to courts to avoid the garnishment? If so, who approves that? The courts or do the two parties have to come to an agreement?
Bills.com
March 10, 2014
Reread the original article above, and then consult with an Arizona lawyer immediately. If you cannot afford a lawyer, contact Community Legal Services or another Arizona pro bono program that provides no-cost legal services to Arizona residents.
Steven Q.
Sedona, AZ  |  February 18, 2014
Hello, I live in AZ, but have a money judgement against me from MI for arrears child and spousal support of $10k, and also to pay my ex's legal fees of $2500. I have managed to stay current on all support payments for several months by exhausting my 401(k) and using low-interest credit cards, because I only net $1000/mo income while my child support is $972/mo (thanks to judge imputing my income very high). I live with my partner, have only a car worth under $5k, and my personal clothing and household goods. My question is, what can my ex or the MI court come after me with in Arizona? I have nothing else to give them. Should I worry about these money judgments or, since I don't have the money, just let them ride? And never show up in Michigan again? Thank you.
Bills.com
February 21, 2014
Do not ignore this issue because doing so will make matters worse. Consult with an Arizona lawyer who has family law experience. If you cannot afford a lawyer, contact Community Legal Services or another Arizona pro bono program to find no-cost legal assistance.
Sandra B.
Phoenix, AZ  |  December 18, 2013
Can a court levy my LLC bank account when the debt for collection is personal?
Bills.com
December 19, 2013
Details here matter.

If the LLC's account was opened as the LLC's account, and not your personal account, then the court cannot touch (in a legal sense of the word) the LLC's account. Talk to the lawyer you used to set up your corporation to verify you set up the LLC bank account correctly. If you created the LLC on your own, then consult with a lawyer who has corporations experience to learn the answer to your question.
Kristi K.
Glendale, AZ  |  December 18, 2013
I incurred some debt (second mortgage) prior to getting married, and then lost my home in the recession. The second mortgage company got a judgment against me. Before I was married, I signed a prenuptial agreement that specifically says that a) my husband isn't responsible for my personal debts incurred before the marriage b) any real property purchased after the marriage with his inheritance is solely his and I do not have any claim to it.

The judgment-creditor is now attempting to seize assets purchased by my husband (with his earnings, I do not work) after we were married as well as his property, which he purchased with an inheritance.

How can they take property from a party who never signed nor agreed to that old loan?
Bills.com
December 19, 2013
Consult with an Arizona lawyer who has community property litigation experience immediately. It appears to me, and I hasten to add I am not an Arizona lawyer, the creditor overreaches what Arizona allows in A.R.S. § 25-215. An Arizona lawyer will review the facts in your case, and apply Arizona case law to answer your question precisely.
Kathy R.
Tucson, AZ  |  November 12, 2013
I had a vehicle repossessed in 2001. I opened the loan in 1998. Today, I received a phone call from a debt collector telling me I owe $11,255. I don't believe I ever received a notice of a judgment on this. I live in Arizona, so is the statute of limitations for this over?
Bills.com
November 12, 2013
The Arizona statute of limitations for a written contract is 6 years. The 6-year clock starts when you breached the contract, which in this case was probably about 30 days after your last payment.

Did the collection agent mention a judgment against you? If so, and the judgment is a surprise, consult with a lawyer who has consumer law experience immediately. Ask your lawyer to file a motion to vacate the judgment based on an insufficient service of process.

If there is a judgment against you, ask your lawyer when it was filed. Arizona judgments have a very short lifetime.

If there is no judgment against you, then send the collection agent a debt validation notice followed by a cease communications notice if it validates the debt.
Keith A.
October 24, 2013
I was recently served with an "Order Requiring Judgment Debtor to Appear for Judgment Debtor Examination." I owe approximately $3500 in small claims / justice court. I don't have anything in the way of real property on which to put a lien. I do have two vehicles, though, one a 1990 SUV with a salvage title and the other a 1990 Miata, both of which have small liens against them through a title loan agency (no "free and clear" title). Are both vehicles, my primary as well as my secondary means of transportation, subject to seizure? Or is it more customary and likely that the Justice Court will place a lien on one or both? If it is at all possible, this particular individual is vindictive enough to to leave me on foot if he can (his business has an F rating by the Better Business Bureau), so give me the worst case scenario. Thanks.
Bills.com
October 24, 2013
Each state has its own list of exemption amounts for vehicles and other property that are off-limits to judgment-creditors. Arizona has a $5,000 exemption. Customarily, vehicle exemptions are for one vehicle, and I confess I do not know if Arizona allows debtors to combine the values of several vehicles if both together are worth less than $5,000. Check to see if Arizona has a wildcard exemption you can apply to the second vehicle. If you are a low-income person, contact your county bar association to learn the names of groups in your area that provide legal services to people with low or no income. Make an appointment with one of these groups, and bring all of the documents you have regarding the judgment and vehicle liens. The lawyer you meet with will explain your rights and liabilities under Arizona law, and how you should respond to the court order you received.
Kayli J.
Tucson, AZ  |  September 28, 2013
I received a letter in the mail that says I was taken to court for a petition to garnish wages. The letter says, "the garnishee should be discharged..." Then there are two boxes the one that is chaned says "the garnishment judgement has not been satisfied" then on the second page it goes in to say , "based in the statement appearing in the petition for order discharging garnishee it is ordered that garnishee is discharged." What does this mean. I don't understand legal chatter. Can you tell me? Please?
Bills.com
September 30, 2013
I would not do you any favors by commenting on a document I have not read. Take the letter and its envelope to a lawyer in your state who has consumer law experience. He or she will interpret the legalese for you.
Jeremy F.
Flagstaff, AZ  |  January 15, 2013
My wife is trying to pay a judgment that is showing up on one of her credit reports. When we called the original creditor they transferred us to what I assume to be the Judgment Creditor. They claim they won't settle the judgment for less than $3,500. The judgment listed on her credit report is $1,400. When we call to ask why it is so high they tell us it is for legal fees and interest that is somewhere around 28%. What can we do in this situation, and can they legally charge us interest or try to collect for more than the judgment listed in the credit file?
Bills.com
January 15, 2013
First, just because a collection account or judgment appears on a credit report does not mean the debt is owed. There are three main credit reporting agencies (CRAs) in the US, and many smaller ones. A credit reporting agency is a specialized publisher. Think of a CRA as a type of newspaper or Web site — the information may be accurate or it may not be. Your first task is to learn if a judgment even exists, its amount, and whether the plaintiff (the party that filed the action) followed all of your state's civil procedure rules. If it didn't, then you can file a motion to vacate the judgment.

Second, many states allow judgment-creditors to charge interest on a judgment. The state will set the maximum amount. Your second task is to learn how much is allowed in your state. Do not take the judgment-creditor's word for what the maximum may be.

Third, realize that when it comes to debt collection, everything is subject to negotiation. Scrape together $750 or so and offer the judgment-creditor that amount as a settlement.

However, before you start making offers, take steps 1 and 2 to learn if the debt is even a real judgment, and if so, whether the mystery-fee add-ons are allowable under your state's laws. Consult with a lawyer who has consumer law experience for assistance.
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Ron W.
March 23, 2013
In Arizona the maximum allowed post judgment interest rate is 10% Judgments over five years old and NOT renewed are unenforceable. If it's over 5yrs from the date it was obtained they cannot legally force you to pay. The problem becomes the credit report. It can legally stay on there for 7-10 years.
Carmen H.
Phoenix, AZ  |  April 01, 2012
I defaulted on my school loan of $11,000. The creditor (through a judgment) has been receiving payments (garnishment) for 4 1/2 years. I have $9,000 but now the creditor said the $9,000 was fees and interest and I can't be released from the garnishment until I pay $11,000 principle. Can they do this?
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