In Florida, the debt collection laws allow certain creditors to collect money from individuals if the creditor is awarded a judgment in court. If the court finds that you owe someone money, you will have a judgment entered against you and the creditor will be able to pursue you for that judgment, typically with interest. But how do creditors do this, and can they come after your home? Those questions and more will be answered in this blog which is meant to educate you on the debt collection process and prepare you for what comes next.
What is a final judgment?
A final judgment is what is entered by a judge against you which resolves all of the issues in dispute and settles the claims raised by those issues. This final judgment will indicate how to enforce the judgment and will also indicate whether costs are awarded and whether an appeal should be filed. The important thing to note is that the final judgment itself does not grant any money to the creditors. The creditors will have to go through what is called judgment collection. This is the process by which a creditor who is entitled to judgment can find and take a debtor’s property to pay any judgment they were able to obtain. This is traditionally called the execution of the judgment.
What property can a creditor take to satisfy a debt?
The good news is, that if you own the home you live in, it is usually safe from all creditors except for the mortgage company or someone who has a lien on that property. In Florida, if you live in an unincorporated area, you have the option to exempt your home and up to one half acre of your property from any forced sale by a creditor. In Florida, this is what is called the homestead protection law. A homeowner has to qualify for homestead and can do so by filing what is called a Notice of Homestead with the local court which will give a description of your home and the land surrounding it. This is claimed as your homestead.
In the event that you do not qualify for the homestead, you can still claim a personal property exception for any amount up to $4,000.00 per person. But you still are not able to exempt property from those who have an interest in the property or a lien against that personal property. There is also an exemption that is completely separate which allows someone to protect their car up to $1,000.00. The problem is, if the car has a value of more than that amount, which most do, it cannot be protected.
Most people also are not aware that wages are able to be garnished in Florida. If someone filed as the head of a household and makes less than $500 per week, those wages will be protected from creditors. There are other wages which are exempt as well, including any social security benefits, workers comp benefits, unemployment benefits, disability benefits, veterans benefits, any pensions a person receives, any retirement 401k plans, life insurance payouts, and any college or medical savings accounts.
Another important piece of information is that a creditor cannot go after property if it is held jointly, or together with another person. You can file an exemption for your interest in the property itself. If you are married, any marital property held in both the husband and wife’s name is exempt from the creditors of the other. You will have to file an affidavit with the court to claim this exemption however and this exemption cannot be fraudulent to simply try and protect the property from the creditors.
What to do if you feel like a creditor is wrongfully coming after your assets?
If you feel like one or more creditors are coming after you for a debt, you can always seek the legal advice of an attorney who may be able to assist. The attorneys at the Lopez Law Group are always willing to assist and offer a free consultation to see if a creditor who is pursuing you is doing so wrongfully. An attorney can sit down with you and discuss the strengths and weaknesses of your case and can advise you whether or not a potential creditor has any right to the assets they are pursuing. Give us a call today at 727-933-0015. Our attorneys are standing by ready to assist.