Florida debt collection law

Florida judgment collection laws govern how debts can be legally collected. These laws allow for the collection of debts through court judgments, set limits on how much and how often a debtor’s wages can be garnished, and protect certain assets of the debtor from being seized.

Florida law allows a creditor to begin debt collection once a final judgment is entered. The statute of limitations for debt collection is five years from the last payment. After five years, a creditor cannot sue to collect on a debt.

How Debt Collection Works in Florida

Debt collection cannot start immediately after the final judgment is issued in Florida. There is a 10-day period after the judgment date during which either party can request a rehearing. Rehearing requests are usually denied, but if approved, they stay the enforcement of the judgment until the court rules on the rehearing motion.

A court’s final judgment does not provide the prevailing judgment creditor any money. Nor does the final judgment, by itself, take any of the debtor’s property.

If the judgment debtor doesn’t pay, the creditor must use legal tools to enforce the judgment against the debtor’s assets. Florida law allows a judgment creditor to seize or place liens against a debtor’s assets to satisfy a money judgment.

Effective asset protection planning requires understanding the tools judgment creditors may use to discover and take non-exempt assets.

What Happens If You Don’t Pay a Judgment?

If you do not pay a judgment, the creditor will use legal tools to find and take your assets in order to satisfy the debt. The judgment creditor can (1) garnish your bank account and your wages, (2) require you and your spouse to reveal all of your financial information, and (3) place a lien on any non-homestead property.

People who pay their debts on time have little experience dealing with debt collection or money judgments. They are unaware of the problems they will face if a business failure or personal financial problem leads to a creditor obtaining a court judgment for money damages.

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Is It a Crime to Not Pay a Judgment?

It is not a crime in Florida to not pay a civil money judgment. A creditor cannot have you arrested for non-payment of a debt or for your inability to pay a court judgment.

Sometimes, a creditor may obtain a judgment and not actively try to collect money thereafter. This is common when the creditor has reason to believe that you do not have the financial ability to pay, believe that your assets are exempt from collection, or if the creditor does not want to force you into bankruptcy, where the debt would be discharged. Creditors do not want to spend “good money” in futile attempts to collect “bad debt.”

Most money judgments against individuals or small businesses are settled for amounts significantly less than the judgment amount. Preventative asset protection maximizes your exempt assets and puts you in the best position to leverage a successful debt settlement.

Debt collection law in Florida

How to Collect a Judgment in Florida

Here are the main ways to collect a judgment in Florida:

  1. Record a judgment lien.
  2. Use execution and levy.
  3. Seize the debtor’s vehicle.
  4. Levy on business interests.
  5. Garnish the debtor’s bank account.
  6. Garnish the debtor’s wages.
  7. File for proceedings supplementary.

How Do Judgment Liens Work?

Judgment liens work as a legal claim on a debtor’s property. Here’s a brief overview:

  1. Court Judgment: First, a creditor must win a court judgment against the debtor, proving the debtor owes a specific amount of money.
  2. Lien Attachment: Once the creditor obtains the judgment, they can attach a lien to the debtor’s property, such as a house, land, or other valuable assets. A lien on personal property can be filed with the Florida Secretary of State.
  3. Securing the Debt: The lien doesn’t immediately collect the debt but secures the creditor’s interest in the debtor’s property. If the debtor sells or refinances the property, the lien ensures the debt is paid from the proceeds before the debtor receives any money.
  4. Enforcement: If the debt isn’t paid, the creditor may enforce the lien by initiating a foreclosure or forced sale of the property to collect what’s owed.

What Is Execution and Levy?

Execution and levy are collection remedies used to force the sale of your tangible personal and real property and then apply the sale proceeds to satisfy a judgment.

In Florida, your judgment creditor uses the process of called execution and levy to seize your personal property, including (1) automobiles, (2) stock in private companies, and (3) valuable home possessions. The creditor can also execute against any property you gave to a third party, such as a friend or family member.

Your creditor must identify the property they want to subject to execution and levy in advance. The county sheriff executes the levy by physically seizing property identified by your creditor and which the sheriff finds in your possession. The sheriff sells your property at a public auction. The sheriff applies the sales proceeds, minus expenses, to satisfy the judgment. Any preexisting liens on the property must be paid before any money is available to pay the judgment creditor. You can bid for your own property at the auction, and the money you pay will be given to your creditor to satisfy the judgment.

Judgment Creditors Can Levy on Your Vehicles

A Florida judgment creditor can seize your cars and other motor vehicles through a sheriff levy and execution. Creditors frequently direct the sheriff to levy upon automobiles you own free and clear. The sheriff can tow the car from a public parking lot or street and sell it at a public auction. The judgment creditor is entitled to the proceeds of the sale minus sheriff fees, storage costs, and auction fees.

Creditors typically do not levy automobiles subject to significant car loans and liens because few people will pay significant money to buy a car subject to a lien at an auction. In addition, the lender on the vehicle must be paid first from the proceeds of any sheriff sale. A car with significant debt is not a good collection target.

People anticipating a money judgment are better situated if they lease their motor vehicles instead of owning them. Leased vehicles are not your assets, so a leased vehicle cannot be subject to levy and execution for a judgment.

I Need My Car to Go to Work. Can A Sheriff Still Take the Car?

Florida law does not give you an exemption for a work vehicle. Needing a car for your job or to commute to work is not a legal defense against a sheriff’s levy of your vehicle.

Creditors’ Rights to Levy on Your Business Corporation

Creditors can use execution and levy against your shares of stock in your private business.

The sheriff can sell your company stock at auction. The creditor can bid the amount of its judgment for the stock at the auction. The party that purchases the stock at auction steps into your shoes as a stockholder. If you owned one hundred percent of issued stock, the successful auction bidder gains control of your company and all company assets, including, for example, company bank accounts.

Suppose your privately held corporation has not issued stock, or that you have misplaced the stock certificates. In that case, the creditor can obtain a court order directing your corporation to reissue stock certificates. The court can hold you in contempt if you willfully do not comply with the order to issue stock. The court may order you to retrieve already issued stock certificates outside the court’s jurisdiction.

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Can Creditors Take Your LLC in Florida?

A creditor may not execute and levy upon your membership interests in a partnership or multi-member LLC. The creditor may not levy assets owned by your partnership or LLC.

The creditor’s sole remedy is a charging lien on partnership or LLC profit distributions payable to you, the owner. Assuming a properly drafted partnership agreement or LLC operating agreement in Florida, your membership interest in a partnership or multi-member LLC provides better asset protection than a traditional small business.

How Garnishment Is Used to Collect a Judgment

Creditors use garnishment to seize any money or property owed to you by a third party. For example, money in your bank account constitutes a debt the bank owes you. Your employer owes you wages and salary. A judgment creditor may garnish payments of these debts.

writ of garnishment authorizes the judgment creditor to intercept and collect money and property payable to you by a third party. Garnishment writs are used to collect judgments from your bank accounts, future wages and commissions, financial accounts holding publicly traded securities, or any debts or rights to money someone else owes you.

How Does Garnishment Begin?

Garnishment actions begin with the clerk of the court issuing a garnishment writ. The creditor serves the writ upon your employer, bank, financial institution, or other person who owes you something.

A garnishment writ notifies the third party that they must retain an asset or money owed to you and thereafter pay the money to your creditor as directed by a court.

Advanced Notice of a Garnishment Is Not Required

Your creditors are not required to give you or your attorney advance notice before serving a writ of garnishment.

What Are The Requirements of a Garnishment?

There are several conditions for effectively garnishing money:

  1. Money subject to garnishment must be in the actual possession and control of the garnished third party.
  2. The money must be owed to you without condition.
  3. The amount owed must be liquidated (fixed) in amount.

Does a Garnishment Writ Apply to Future Payments?

In most instances, a writ of garnishment pertains to debts and obligations currently owed to you, not future debts. Only debts owed when the writ is served are frozen and subject to garnishment. The writ of garnishment does not attach to money that may be owed you in the future, except for wages and salary, as discussed below.

How Wage Garnishment Works

A continuing wage garnishment served upon your employer garnishes all your future non-exempt wages, salary, and commissions payable. The garnishment continues in effect until either the judgment is paid, you leave your employment, or you file bankruptcy.

A creditor cannot get a continuing writ of garnishment against any other form of payment owed to you for your personal services and labor. For example, money a business pays to you working as an independent contractor or rents owed you by your tenant are not subject to continuing writs.

Are There Things That Cannot Be Garnished?

Florida law exempts some types of debts from garnishment. For example, wages payable to a head of household are exempt from continuing wage garnishments without limitation of amount. Periodic payments from social security, annuities, and retirement plans can also not be garnished in Florida.

Garnishment procedures are complicated, strictly construed, and enforced in Florida courts. Some debtors defeat garnishments by finding procedural flaws in the garnishment writ and application.

We help protect your assets from creditors.

We offer customized advice for clients throughout Florida. Get answers for your specific situation by phone or Zoom.

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How Do Creditors Find Your Assets?

Florida debt collection laws provide judgment creditors numerous means to find your income and assets. Discovery in aid of execution in Florida describes the legal process by which a judgment creditor finds (discovers) assets that may be subject to collection of a money judgment.

Legal Tools Creditors Employ to Discover Your Assets

A judgment creditor can use the same discovery tools available to parties in general litigation to discover assets after a judgment is entered. After a creditor locates your assets, the creditor applies collection tools to seize and liquidate the assets that are not exempt from execution. Discovery of your previously owned assets provides clues about your fraudulent transfers or conversions of assets to avoid collection.

After a court issues a money judgment, the judgment creditor is permitted to ask you detailed and extensive questions about your financial affairs. The creditor can demand that you disclose all assets in which you have any legal or equitable interest, including assets owned jointly with a spouse, family members, or business associates. The creditor can ask you broad questions about past asset sales or transfers.

The creditor can also seek information from third parties, such as an examination under oath of your spouse and other family members.

How Does a Creditor Creditor Find Out What You Have?

A creditor has many ways to find out what you own. Here are the main ways:

  • Depositions
  • Document requests
  • Financial statements
  • Real estate records
  • Public business records
  • Other creditors
  • Private investigators
  • Social media

How Creditors Use Deposition in Aid of Execution to Discover Your Assets

A creditor can find out what you own by taking an oral deposition. A creditor can require you to appear before a court reporter while the creditor examines you under oath about your financial affairs and assets.

You must answer all the creditor’s questions under oath during the deposition. Creditors are allowed to ask a very broad range of questions, including any question that might lead to asset discovery. It is difficult to object to a creditor question on the grounds of relevancy during a deposition in aid of execution.

In most cases, your deposition occurs in the county where you live. A creditor may not force you to travel outside your residential county to the creditor’s place of business or to the creditor’s attorney’s law firm in another county. A creditor may take several depositions during the life of a judgment so long as the frequency does not amount to unreasonable harassment.

Do You Have To Respond to a Request for Production of Documents?

Creditors use requests for production to obtain tax returns and other financial records. You must furnish documents that the judgment creditor reasonably requests regarding your assets and financial affairs. Florida’s asset discovery laws allow creditors to request copies of your bank statements, check registers, canceled checks, credit card statements, insurance policies, and tax returns.

A creditor can request documents up to at least four years old. Upon request, you must produce all documents that could lead to the discovery of your assets available to satisfy the judgment.

However, you are required to supply only requested documents that are in your custody or control. You do not have to provide documents that you do not have or cannot easily obtain.

How Creditors Use Your Financial Statements To Find Assets

Creditors often use your own sworn financial statements submitted
to third parties in the course of business to document your asset
ownership and asset values. When an individual borrows money to start a business or personally guarantees a commercial loan to an existing business, the bank typically requires the individual business owner to submit a personally signed personal financial statement.

In addition, lenders typically require individual borrowers or guarantors to periodically update their financial statements throughout the loan’s life.

A judgment creditor will often request copies of your loan applications and updated financial statements previously submitted to lenders. Some borrowers exaggerate their assets when they apply for a loan. A judgment creditor may use your inflated valuations and asset descriptions on lending documents to contradict attempts to minimize your assets during a deposition.

How Judgment Creditors Can Find Your Real Estate

Judgment creditors can easily find your real property ownership in
public records. Real estate deeds are filed in the county where the real estate is situated. Each Florida county maintains an index of real estate ownership. Florida counties have digitized their legal records so that property ownership is available by online search. Online property records are centrally linked to state and national databases.

For a small fee, a creditor can search real estate records throughout Florida. Computer searches quickly provide information about your property ownership and other details such as the date of purchase, mortgages, and property value. The same property search can also identify whether you hold any mortgages on someone else’s real estate to secure a promissory note payable to you.

The judgment creditor can garnish the underlying note and payment stream if it finds you are a mortgagee from seller financing.

Creditors Can Search and Find Your Business Interests

Creditors can search state business records to discover your business interests. Florida public records do not include or reveal any entity’s ownership interest. Still, they do disclose if you are an officer or director of a corporation, manager of a limited liability company, or a registered agent.

Most owners list themselves in at least one of those capacities when filing annual reports with the Florida Division of Corporations. Once a creditor discovers that you are involved in a business in some capacity, it will focus on your ownership interests.

The extent and nature of your business entity ownership are usually revealed through tax returns or other discovery tools, such as an oral deposition.

Do Creditors Help Each Other Find Assets?

Yes, creditor agents often cooperate in asset searches. Collection agents working for institutional lenders and large collection agencies also develop personal contacts in banks and other financial institutions.

The creditor’s personal contacts are an excellent source of financial information about judgment debtors. Any contact person accessing a company’s computer records can quickly tell a collection agent whether you have a financial account at its institution. The judgment creditor can then serve a writ of garnishment on any institution where they suspect you have an account with a significant balance.

Professional Investigators Assist Judgment Collections

Finding non-exempt assets to satisfy judgments is a substantial part of a private investigator’s business. Private investigators perform asset searches as a service to judgment creditors. Some private investigation firms specialize in searching for bank accounts, while other firms provide broader searches. Access to internet and social media information has made investigator’s asset searches easier and more accurate.

Private investigators have several sophisticated methods of asset discovery at their disposal. For example, they can access your phone records and use reverse lookup tools to see whether you have made or received toll-free calls from financial institutions where you may keep funds. Some creditors employ private investigators to verify that you actually reside at the property you claim is your exempt homestead.

How Technology and Social Media Help Debt Collection

Social media has made it easier than ever for creditors to discover the nature and location of your assets. People often refer to their assets and income in social media discussions. Social media is a revealing source of information about your finances and things you may have done to evade judgment collection.

How Can I Effectively Hide Assets From Creditors?

Asset protection does not involve hiding assets from judgment collection. People facing the collection of a judgment should resist the urge to hide or misrepresent their assets during the creditor’s asset discovery procedures. Most of the information you provide a judgment creditor during discovery in aid of execution must be certified as true under oath.

Hiding assets, misrepresenting asset values, and lying about prior transfers of assets amounts to perjury. Perjury is not only a crime; once discovered, it severely diminishes your credibility before the judge. Judges tend to rule against any party who has previously lied to the court or the adverse party.

The better option is to engage in asset protection planning to make any assets you are concerned about more difficult to collect.

We tell you what you can do to protect your assets.

We’ve advised thousands of clients nationwide on how to protect their assets from creditors. Schedule a phone or Zoom consultation to get started.

Alper Law attorneys

Do Florida Judgments Ever Expire?

A Florida judgment lasts for 20 years. After 20 years, the judgments expire and are no longer enforceable.

The time runs from the day the judge signs the final judgment. Section 55.081 of the Florida Statutes establishes this 20-year timeline. A creditor can collect a judgment any time during the 20 years after its issuance.

If a judgment originates out of state and is domesticated in Florida, the timeline begins when the original court enters the judgment.

What is the difference between the expiration of a judgment and the expiration of a judgment lien?

People often misunderstand the difference between the length of a judgment and the length of a judgment lien. A judgment is an order entered by the court ordering you to pay a creditor an amount of money. A judgment lien is a document filed with the Florida Secretary of State giving the judgment holder priority in attacking your non-exempt.

While a Florida judgment lasts 20 years, a judgment lien is valid for only 10 years unless it is renewed. If the lien is not renewed, the creditor loses its priority against subsequent judgments.

Florida judgment collection law

Does Florida Have Pre-Judgment Collection Remedies?

Some pre-judgment remedies are available in most states, including Florida. What makes the U.S. government’s pre-judgment remedies powerful is the absence of a bond requirement. Section 28 U.S C. 3101(C)(3) states that the United States requires no bond as a condition of pre-judgment actions against a defendant’s assets. For this reason, federal agencies often seek an immediate freeze of a defendant’s assets upon filing a civil action.

Under Florida law, a creditor wanting to freeze assets before a judgment must post a bond to compensate you if you prevail in civil litigation or your frozen assets are found to be exempt. The cost of a pre-judgment collection bond is significant. The bond cost, plus liability risks, deter most state court civil creditors from seeking a pre-judgment asset freeze.

How Credit Card Companies Collect Their Judgments

If a credit card company gets a judgment against you for unpaid credit card debt, you need to prepare for the creditor’s attempts to collect the judgment.

Often, a creditor will not attempt to collect a small judgment because the legal costs are greater than the creditor’s probable recovery. Most court money judgments do not reimburse the creditor for its own legal fees incurred in trying to collect the judgment.

Some people faced with a credit card judgment immediately think they will have to file bankruptcy. This is a mistake. The judgment creditor has more leverage in bankruptcy court, and bankruptcy law strips away some of your asset exemptions. Bankruptcy should be your last resort to escape credit card debts.

Example of How Creditors Use Florida Laws to Collect a Judgment

Assume a hypothetical Florida resident named Amy. Amy is married with two minor children. She earns an annual salary of $80,000, and her husband makes at least $100,000 annually. Assume there is a judgment against Amy for old credit card debt for $50,000.

The credit card company wants to collect on its judgment. The creditor schedules an oral deposition in aid of execution. Amy must attend, and she must bring with her various financial documents that the creditor requested. The documents typically include personal tax returns, bank statements for all her financial accounts, and W-2 statements for both her and her husband.

After the deposition, the creditor obtains a writ of garnishment against Amy’s joint bank account and a wage garnishment against Amy’s employer. Amy’s bank account was opened as tenants by the entireties, so Amy can successfully defeat the bank account garnishment by filing the appropriate claim of exemption.

However, Amy’s salary is not exempt and is subject to a continuing wage garnishment. She makes less than her husband, so she cannot claim that she supports her children and, therefore, cannot assert a head of household exemption from wage garnishment. A continuing wage garnishment compels her employer to give the creditor 25% of Amy’s after-tax take-home pay.

Not wanting to work for 25% less, Amy negotiates a settlement agreement with the judgment creditor to settle in full.

In most situations, the creditor would rather get a lump sum payment now than rely on payments from a wage garnishment over time. However, in this example, the creditor used the wage garnishment as leverage to make Amy come to the table with a lump sum settlement.

Amy’s other option would have been to file Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Bankruptcy discharges the judgment and terminates the wage garnishment so that Amy does not have to forfeit 25% of her income until the judgment is paid. Bankruptcy could expose other assets, and it has a worse impact on credit ratings than does a civil judgment. A good settlement is usually a better option than bankruptcy.

Consumer Collection Practices Act

Florida debt collection laws and procedures are governed by the Florida Consumer Collection Practices Act (FCCPA). This law prohibits debt collectors and creditors from using certain abusive, deceptive, and misleading debt collection tactics. The FCCPA supplements the protections provided by the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) and applies solely to consumer debt collection.

Prohibited Practices

The Florida Consumer Collection Practices Act (FCCPA) prohibits a range of practices in the collection of consumer debts. These prohibited practices include:

  1. Communication with Debtors: Collectors cannot communicate with debtors at unusual or inconvenient times or places. They also cannot communicate with a debtor if they know an attorney represents the debtor.
  2. Harassment or Abuse: The use of violence, threats of violence, obscene or profane language, and repeated phone calls with the intent to annoy, abuse, or harass a debtor are prohibited.
  3. False or Misleading Representations: Collectors cannot falsely represent the character, amount, or legal status of the debt. They also can’t falsely represent themselves as attorneys, government representatives, or as operating or working for a credit reporting agency.
  4. Unfair Practices: Attempting to collect any amount not expressly authorized by the agreement or permitted by law, soliciting postdated checks to threaten criminal prosecution, and depositing or threatening to deposit postdated checks before the date on the check are all prohibited.
  5. Disclosure of Debt: Collectors are forbidden from disclosing information about a debt to anyone other than the debtor or their attorney, except as permitted by law.
  6. Communication with Third Parties: They are not allowed to communicate with third parties about the debtor’s debt except under very specific circumstances, such as with the debtor’s or their attorney’s consent, to obtain location information about the debtor or as otherwise permitted by law.
  7. Communication at the Debtor’s Place of Employment: Collectors are not allowed to communicate with debtors if they know or should know that the employer prohibits such communication.
  8. Threatening Legal Action: It is also prohibited to make empty threats to sue or take legal action that is not permitted or contemplated.

Violations of the FCCPA can result in civil penalties, including statutory damages, actual damages, and, in some cases, punitive damages. Debtors who believe their rights under the FCCPA have been violated may seek legal advice or contact their state’s consumer protection office for assistance.

What can you do about unfair debt collection?

If a debt collector violates Florida debt collection laws, consumers have several options. They can sue the debt collector in state court, report the action to a government agency, report it to the state attorney general, or use the violation as leverage in debt settlement negotiations.

You can sue for damages if you lost wages or had medical bills because of things a debt collector did illegally. If you can’t prove damages, a judge can still award you up to $1,000 plus reimburse you for attorney’s fees and court costs.

We tell you what you can do to protect your assets.

We’ve advised thousands of clients nationwide on how to protect their assets from creditors. Schedule a phone or Zoom consultation to get started.

Alper Law attorneys

How Does Federal Agency Collection Work?

Federal agencies have enhanced remedies to collect judgments. For example, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) sometimes sues individuals in federal court for monetary damages and fines for violating federal rules and regulations. Frequent examples are FTC suits against telemarketer firms for violating antitrust laws or suits by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for violating investment regulations.

The federal government’s collection of judgments is different in many respects from a private creditor’s collection of a judgment for damages.

What Is the FDCPA ?

The Federal Debt Collection Procedures Act (Chapter 176 of Title 28 of the United States Code) (FDCPA) provides the federal government tools to collect debts owed to government agencies. The Act has subchapters dealing with pre-judgment remedies, post-judgment remedies, and the reversal of fraudulent transfers.

The Federal Government’s Principal Collection Tools

The U.S. government’s post-judgment collection tools are comparable to state law collection remedies and include judgment liens on real property, garnishment of accounts and debts, and levy on personal property.

In addition, some federal agencies, such as the IRS or the SEC, have statutes that provide enhanced collection procedures for debts owed to their agency.

Do Florida’s Asset Exemptions Apply to Federal Government Collection?

A Florida resident may use Florida asset exemptions to defend assets against a federal agency collection. The general rule is that a defendant debtor may assert property exemptions available under applicable state law in the jurisdiction where the debtor has resided for the most recent 180-day period.

Therefore, you must have resided in Florida for 180 days to assert Florida exemptions under the federal collection statute. In contrast, there is no minimum residency time period in state court collection proceedings where Florida exemptions apply immediately upon Florida residency.

The Florida residency time requirement in federal collection does not apply to a tenants by entireties property. Tenants by entireties is a property description, not a statutory “exemption,” and the federal statute does not impose a 180 day Florida residency requirement for individual married debtors to protect tenants by entireties property from federal agency collection.

How To Assert Florida Asset Exemptions Against Federal Agency Debt Collection

The federal collection laws require you to assert a Florida asset exemption in a court filing. Your filing of an exemption statement stays further government actions to dispose or take possession of your property until the court considers your exemption claim. Moreover, the government may not seize or interfere with property the government has reason to know is exempt even if you have not yet filed your exemption application.

Federal agency collecting on a judgment

When Can a Federal Agency Start Collecting a Judgment?

U.S. agencies may pursue your property even before the agency’s claims are fully adjudicated and before the federal court enters a final judgment. The FDCPA provides pre-judgment remedies, including attachment, garnishments, or appointment of a receiver. The government may apply for attachment at any time after filing its initial complaint.

The Act requires that the government allege in a sworn statement a statutory justification to attack your assets before judgment. These justifications include, for example, the allegation that you are about to leave the court jurisdiction or that you are about to fraudulently transfer or fraudulently convert assets with the effect of hindering or delaying the United States’ collection.

FAQs about Florida Debt Collection Laws

How does debt collection law work in Florida?

Florida debt collection law governs how creditors can pursue unpaid debts. The law includes methods creditors can use to contact you and the time frame they have to legally collect the debt. Florida judgments are enforceable for 20 years.

How long does a judgment last in Florida?

A Florida judgment lasts for 20 years. The time runs from the day the final judgment is signed by the judge and entered by the court. This 20-year timeline is established by section 55.081 of the Florida Statutes. A creditor can collect a judgment at any time during the 20 years after its issuance.

People often misunderstand the difference between the length of a judgment and the length of a judgment lien. A judgment is an order entered by the court making the debtor liable to the creditor for an amount of money. A judgment lien is the recording of a monetary judgment with the Florida Secretary of State, giving the holder of that judgment priority in attacking property owned by the judgment debtor. The priority is against any other judgment creditors that subsequently record their own judgments.

While a judgment lasts 20 years in Florida, a judgment lien is valid for only 10 years. The judgment creditor’s lien loses priority against other creditors after 10 years,  but the creditor retains a valid judgment for the remainder of the 20-year lifetime of the judgment.

If a judgment originates out of state and is domesticated in Florida, the timeline begins on the day the original court enters the judgment.

Can you become judgment-proof in Florida?

Judgment proof refers to a situation where a civil monetary judgment creditor cannot collect any of a debtor’s assets or income. Asset protection will not make you judgment proof in Florida. With enough time and money, an aggressive and skilled collection attorney can attack at least some of any judgment debtor’s assets. Do not believe an attorney who promises to make you judgment proof.

A more realistic goal of asset protection is making it more difficult for the judgment creditor to collect a money judgment, thereby increasing the debtor’s position in settlement negotiation. Being effectively judgment-proof means protecting your assets and income to such a degree that it is difficult for a judgment creditor to collect a judgment from any of your assets. Proper asset protection requires a complete understanding of the legal tools a creditor has available to collect a judgment and then positioning assets in a way to defeat the same collection tools.

People sometimes ask whether they should send a “judgment-proof letter” to tell the creditor that collection efforts would be unsuccessful. Such judgment proof letters are not persuasive unless the debtor is willing to provide the creditor with a sworn affidavit describing all assets of the judgment debtor.

What personal property can be seized in a judgment in Florida?

A judgment creditor can take any non-exempt personal property you own, including your furniture, collectibles, and other personal property in your home, safe deposit boxes, and financial accounts.

However, you may be able to claim exemptions for some of your personal property. For example, personal property belonging to a married couple is exempt from seizure so long as the judgment is against only one of the spouses.

What happens to a judgment after 20 years in Florida?

After 20 years, the creditor can no longer take any action on the judgment, pursuant to Florida statute 95.11.

Can a creditor seize the personal property inside your house?

The Florida homestead exemption does not apply to personal property inside the homestead. A judgment creditor can seize all non-exempt personal property inside your home, but he or she must direct the sheriff to seize specific items of personal property. Therefore, a creditor cannot get a blanket attachment against “all the stuff” in the debtor’s house, and he or she cannot break into a debtor’s house and grab property without court permission.

If the creditor identifies non-exempt assets within the debtor’s house, a court may issue a “break order” to assist the sheriff in seizing them. Some courts will issue break orders without advance warning to the debtor.

Can creditors take your house in Florida?

No. In Florida, up to 160 acres of contiguous property in a county, and up to a 1/2 acre in a city, is completely protected from civil judgment creditors. This protection originates from Article X, Section 4 of the Florida Constitution.

Can a creditor take your car in Florida?

A creditor can take your car to collect on a debt. The creditor can have a sheriff’s officer seize the vehicle through a sheriff’s levy and then sell it at a public auction. The creditor will get the sales proceeds minus fees.

Florida statutes give the debtor a $1,000 motor vehicle exemption, which increases to $4,000 for debtors not also claiming a homestead exemption. Furthermore, most creditors will not pursue a car that is financed and subject to a recorded lien in favor of the finance company.

Can you go to jail for debt in Florida?

You can’t go to jail for not paying a judgment in Florida. Not paying a money judgment is not a crime. While the law gives creditors many opportunities and tools to collect on its judgment, it is up to the creditor to use those tools to collect. You could face jail for refusal to comply with court orders during the creditor’s collection efforts.

Can a hospital put a lien on your house in Florida?

A hospital cannot put a lien on your house in Florida if you do not pay medical bills. Your home is an exempt asset that is not subject to forced levy and sale.

How long can someone collect on a judgment?

20 years. Under Florida law, judgments are enforceable for 20 years. A creditor can collect at any point during that timeframe.

What happens if you are sued about your property?

In a lawsuit about your property, a creditor will first record a lis pendens against it to prevent its sale during the lawsuit.

Jon Alper

About the Author

I’m a nationally recognized attorney specializing in asset protection planning. I graduated with honors from the University of Florida Law School and have practiced law for almost 50 years.

I have been recognized as a legal expert by media outlets such as the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. I have helped thousands of clients protect their assets from creditors.

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