South Carolina Collection Laws

Highlights

  • The statute of limitations for most South Carolina debts is 3 years.
  • South Carolina exempts $5,000 from account levy.
  • South Carolina outlaws selling land or personal property with a lien attached.
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Learn South Carolina's Rules For Garnishment, Liens, and Foreclosure

A lender, collection agent or law firm that owns a collection account is a creditor. The law gives creditors several means of collecting delinquent debt. But before a creditor can start, the creditor must go to court to receive a judgment. See the Bills.com article Served Summons and Complaint to learn more about this process.

The court may grant a judgment to the creditor. A judgment is a declaration by a court the creditor has the legal right to demand a wage garnishment, a levy on the debtor’s bank accounts, a lien on the debtor’s property, and in some states, ask a sheriff to seize the debtor’s personal property. The laws calls these remedies. A creditor granted a judgment is called a judgment-creditor. Which of these tools a judgment-creditor will use depends on the circumstances. We discuss each of these remedies below.

South Carolina Wage Garnishment

The most common remedy judgment-creditors use to enforce judgments is wage garnishment. Here, the judgment-creditor contacts 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 — 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.

Wage garnishment of a South Carolina resident is forbidden in any action for "consumer credit sale, a consumer lease, a consumer loan, or a consumer rental-purchase agreement, regardless of where made..." (S.C. Code §37-5-104). It is illegal for an employer to fire an employee for an attempt at wage garnishment (S.C. Code §37-5-106)

Garnishment of Social Security benefits or pensions for consumer debt is not allowed under federal or South Carolina law.

If you reside in another state, see the Bills.com Wage Garnishment article to learn more.

Levy Bank Accounts

A levy means the creditor has the right to take non-exempt money in a debtor’s account and apply the funds to the balance of the judgment. 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.

South Carolina law offers a list of exemptions for property, including financial accounts (S.C. Code § 15-41-30). South Carolina requires judgment-creditors to leave $5,000 in "liquid assets". "Liquid Assets" includes deposits, securities, notes, drafts, unpaid earnings not otherwise exempt, accrued vacation pay, refunds, prepayments, and other receivables.

Lien

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 refinances 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.

In South Carolina, a judgment lien can be attached to real estate or non-exempt personal property (S.C. Code Ann. § 29-1-10 et seq). Here are property exemption amounts for South Carolina residents: (S.C. Code § 15-41-30)

  • $50,000 for a home in which the judgment-debtor resides, or up to $100,000 if the home is a jointly owned residence.
  • $5,000 in one motor vehicle.
  • $4,000 in household furnishings, household goods, wearing apparel, appliances, books, animals, crops, or musical instruments, that are held primarily for personal, family, or household use of the judgment-debtor.
  • $1,000 in jewelry held primarily for personal, family, or household use of the debtor or dependant of the debtor.
  • $1,500 interest in implements, professional books, or tools of the trade for the debtor or the trade of a dependent of the debtor.
  • $5,000 in value of an unused exemption amount to which the debtor is entitled.
  • Any unmatured life insurance contract owned by the debtor, other than credit life insurance contract.
  • Professionally prescribed health aids for Debtor or dependent of the debtor.
  • Social security benefit, unemployment compensation, local public transit benefit.
  • Veteran’s benefits.
  • Disability benefit.
  • Alimony, support, or separate maintenance.
  • Payment under a stock bonus, pension, profit sharing, annuity, or similar plan or contract on account of illness disability, death, age, or length of service.
  • An award under a crime victim’s compensation reparation law.
  • Payment on account of the bodily injury of the debtor or of the wrongful death or bodily injury of another individual of whom the debtor was a dependent.
  • Payments from a life insurance policy that insured the life of an individual of whom the debtor was a dependent on the date of that individual’s death, to the extent reasonably necessary for the support of the debtor and any dependent of the debtor.
  • Individual Retirement Accounts
  • Pension plans that qualify under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, as amended.

A South Carolina judgment that requires the payment of money becomes a lien upon the judgment-debtor’s real property in that county. The the judgment-debtor owns property in another county, the judgment-creditor can enter the transcript of the judgment in that county to obtain a lien. A judgment has a 10-year life, but may be renewed (S.C. Code § 13-52-102).

It is a criminal offense in South Carolina to sell real property or personal property that’s subject to a lien (S.C. Code § 29-1-30 and 36-9-410).

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

South Carolina Statute of Limitations

Each state or commonwealth has its own statute of limitations on civil matters. Here are some of South Carolina’s statutes of limitations for consumer-related issues:

Account/Type Years Statute
South Carolina statutes of limitations. Source: Bills.com
Credit card 3 S.C. Code § 15-3-530
Spoken contract 3
Written contract 3
Mortgage contract 20 S.C. Code § 15-3-120
Judgment Lien 10 S.C. Code § 15-3-600
Judgment* 10 S.C. Code § 15-3-600
* Judgments are not renewable in South Carolina, unlike other states.

When the statute of limitations clock starts depends on the circumstances and the particular statute. Generally, it starts when the action accrues, which means the date of breach. For credit card debt, this means the date the payment was missed. A statute of limitations clock may be paused (called "tolled") under some circumstances, or renewed (S.C. Code § 15-3-120).

South Carolina Foreclosure

A lender will foreclose judicially in South Carolina. South Carolina does not have a mortgage anti-deficiency law, although a former homeowner can ask for appraisal to reduce the deficiency balance. See S.C. Code § 29-3-7 to learn more.

Recommendation

Consult with a South Carolina lawyer who is experienced in civil litigation to get precise answers to your questions about liens, levies, garnishment, and foreclosure.

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