By Jedidiah McKeehan

When individuals or business come to me and state that they want to sue someone for money they are owed, one of the topics I always cover with them is, does this person have any money?  Or another way to put it, if we go to trial and win a big judgment against them, is that judgment collectable?

You could have a million-dollar judgment against someone, but if the person against who you got the judgment has no money, then your judgment is not worth the paper it is written on.

But say you get a judgment against someone in the amount of $10,000.00.  The court does not have $10,000.00 sitting in a back room for you.  It does not work like that.  And after the judgment is awarded against the defendant, no one is standing behind him forcing him to write a check, or go to the bank and get cash to pay the judgment.  Sometimes, you have to chase down people for the money they owe you.

The two most common ways of acquiring money from defendants with judgments against them is through garnishments and bank levies.

If you know where a defendant works, then you can have the court send a garnishment to their employer.  Then their employer is required to send part of the defendant’s paycheck to the court to satisfy the judgment, and then the court turns around and sends a check to you for whatever is collected.  A garnishment can only collect a maximum of fifty percent of each paycheck a person receives.

If you know where someone banks, then you can have the court send a bank levy to their bank.  A bank levy is a one-time cash grab of all of the funds held in the bank account of the defendant.  Once the bank receives the bank levy they are required to freeze the account of the defendant for a period of time and send all of the funds in the account to satisfy the judgment to the court.  So, if a judgment is for $10,000.00 and a person has $12,000.00 in their account, then they will leave $2,000.00 in the account.  However, if they only have $5,000.00 in their account, then the bank levy will seize all of those funds.

A bank levy is a one-time cash grab.  It does not continue to grab money in the future.  A garnishment is on-going.

However, are there ways for defendants to dodge these collection efforts?  Of course!  They can quit their job or change banks.

There are other ways to try to collect money from defendants, but these are two of the most common methods.


Jedidiah McKeehan is an attorney practicing in Knox County and surrounding counties.  He works in many areas, including criminal, personal injury, landlord-tenant, probate, and estate planning. Visit for more information about this legal issue and other legal issues.