- California allows two types of default judgments.
- A creditor must obtain a judgment before using civil remedies to collect a debt.
What is the difference between a clerk judgment and a court judgment?
What is the difference between a creditor requesting a "clerk judgment" vs a court judgment? At what point can the creditor begin collection? Does the creditor have to get a court judgment?
In California, if the defendant fails to answer or otherwise respond to the complaint within the prescribed period of time after service, the plaintiff may request the entry of default and a default judgment.
California Clerk Judgment
California law allows a court clerk to enter a default judgment against the defendant without a court hearing or judicial action (California Civil Procedure § 585 et seq). However, § 585 limits the power of the court clerk to enter a default judgment under vary narrow circumstances.
A court clerk may enter a default judgment in the following situations:
- The judgment is "an action arising upon contract or judgment for the recovery of money or damages only..."
- The damages are a fixed or determinable amount contemplated in the contract
- The defendant was not served by publication. In other words, the defendant was served by a process server or through the mail.
If the amount of the judgment is uncertain or unclear, the clerk may not enter a default judgment
A clerk may enter a default judgment involving attorney's fees:
- "...if the contract provides that attorneys' fees shall be allowed in the event of an action thereon, or
- "if the action is one in which the plaintiff is entitled by statute to recover attorneys' fees in addition to money or damages. "
California Court Judgment
A judgment is a court's decision regarding a legal question. Unlike a clerk judgment, a court's judgment is the result of a hearing or trial where the judge (and sometimes jury) hears the evidence presented by both sides, and reaches a decision. In debt law, a judgment is a document that grants the plaintiff, also called the judgment-creditor, the ability to request a legal remedy.
Remedies vary by state, and can be wage garnishment, account levy, seizing personal property, or a lien on real property. See the Bills.com resource California Collection Laws to read a longer discussion of California remedies.
See the California Judicial Council Web site for a list of court forms Californians may download, complete, and file with a court. This is where to find the form requesting a clerk's judgment, among many other forms.
For a general discussion of the debt collections process, see the Bills.com resource Collections Advice. See also the California Dept. of Consumer Affairs document After the Judgment ... Collecting or Satisfying the Judgment.
In California and in all other jurisdictions I am aware of, a creditor must get a judgment, whether it be a clerk judgment or a judgment from a court, before the creditor can use the debtor's state's remedies. The laws of remedies are very precise and are strictly construed. The slightest error can scuttle a wage garnishment, lien, and so on. Find a lawyer who has experience in remedies to be certain you follow your state's laws to the letter.
I hope this information helps you Find. Learn & Save.
Struggling with debt?
Mortgages, credit cards, student loans, personal loans, and auto loans are common types of debts. According to the NY Federal Reserve total household debt as of Q4 2023 was $17.503 trillion. Housing debt totaled $12.612 trillion and non-housing debt was $4.891 trillion.
A significant percentage of people in the US are struggling with monthly payments and about 26% of households in the United States have debt in collections. According to data gathered by Urban.org from a sample of credit reports, the median debt in collections is $1,739. Credit card debt is prevalent and 3% have delinquent or derogatory card debt. The median debt in collections is $422.
Collection and delinquency rates vary by state. For example, in Connecticut, 17% have student loan debt. Of those holding student loan debt, 6% are in default. Auto/retail loan delinquency rate is 2%.
Avoiding collections isn’t always possible. A sudden loss of employment, death in the family, or sickness can lead to financial hardship. Fortunately, there are many ways to deal with debt including an aggressive payment plan, debt consolidation loan, or a negotiated settlement.