It’s not easy to collect money or debt in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania  has  debtor friendly laws and only persistence and knowledge will help you collect.  But when you or your business are owed money, and the debtor refuses to pay, then you may need to take legal action. Of all the legal options available, my favorite to collect money owed is called  bank account garnishment.

Bank account garnishment is the ability of a creditor or Plaintiff to immediately freeze and potentially seize financial bank accounts of a debtor. This can  include regular checking accounts, money market accounts,  credit union accounts, and/or other financial, savings or investment accounts. The best aspect of bank account garnishment is that it immediately places a hold and/or freeze on the entire account balance, for ANY AND ALL debtor accounts under that banking umbrella or financial institution, regardless of the amount of money owed. This can be done without the debtor’s knowledge before they have the opportunity to withdraw or transfer the money in the account. It’s the best because it can have the element of surprise.

EXAMPLE: Debtor owes $10K. Debtor has $25K in various checking and savings accounts.

Bank receives a single Writ of Execution, along with appropriate forms  directed to Bank.  Bank must immediately freeze any and all bank accounts in excess of $300.00 owned by the Debtor. Freezing entire accounts and all  transactions typically ensures panic by the debtor to voluntarily pay the debt, and if they don’t then the bank will pay the debt directly.

Understand the Simple Steps of the Collection Process.

File a Complaint. Obtain the Judgment. File the Writ of Execution.

collection process pennsylvania

Step 1:  The first step of the collection process is to file your complaint. The goal is to have the courts award you a monetary “judgment.” A Judgment simply means someone is legally indebted to another. Defendants only have 30 days to respond to properly served complaints, or a default judgment can be entered. Sometimes, it’s necessary to win a case through a hearing with a  judge or jury. But, even then, those decisions have to be directed into “judgments.” Once you have the judgment, now you need to collect the judgment, and that step is called, executing the judgment.

Executing the Judgement

Step 2: Once you have your judgment, you now need a  Writ of Execution. A Writ of Execution is a document  which gives authorization to the Sheriff’s Office to serve papers for you. You need to make sure your judgment is properly filed in the county where the debtor has assets and/or banking accounts. There are three primary ways in which the Sheriff’s Office can help a creditor once the Sheriff receives the writ of execution.

  1. The Sheriff can levy and Sheriff Sale personal property (TV’s, guns, furniture, household items).  
  2. The Sheriff can levy, tow and Sheriff Sale  personal vehicles.
  3. The Sheriff can serve bank or financial institutions and freeze bank accounts and force the banks to release monies being held.

The fastest of these three ways to execute is to freeze the banks accounts of the debtor.

The Sheriff does not have to serve the main branches and service can be made at any satellite locations. Examples of serving financial institutions could include such banks as Merrill Lynch, UBS, Wells Fargo, or even Ameritrade. The sheriff can be directed to serve any third party entity which may reasonably be holding money in the name of the debtor or owed by the debtor. Each attempt costs additional money, so it is important to do research on the debtor’s assets before attempting an execution of any kind.

The Details of Bank Account Garnishment.

Understanding Interrogatories to the Garnishee

banks in pittsburgh

Once you have your judgment, and your Writ  of Execution, there is one last document you will need to freeze the banking account of the debtor. That document is called “Interrogatories to Garnishee.” This is a fancy way of saying, “Questions to the Bank.” Interrogatories are questions, and the bank is the garnishee. When the Sheriff serves the Writ of Execution, then must also serve a document which asks the banks certain questions.  The questions are governed by Pennsylvania Rule 3253, called Interrogatories in attachment, and must be answered by the banks within 20 days.


Interrogatories to Garnishee
: (Garnishee)
You are required to file answers to the following interrogatories within twenty (20) days after service upon you. Failure to do so may result in judgment against you:
1. At the time you were served or at any subsequent time did you owe the defendant any money or were you liable to the defendant on any negotiable or other written instrument, or did the defendant claim that you owed the defendant any money or were liable to the defendant for any reason?
  2. At the time you were served or at any subsequent time was there in your possession, custody or control or in the joint possession, custody or control of yourself and one or more other persons any property of any nature owned solely or in part by the defendant?
  3. At the time you were served or at any subsequent time did you hold legal title to any property of any nature owned solely or in part by the defendant or in which the defendant held or claimed any interest?
  4. At the time you were served or at any subsequent time did you hold as fiduciary any property in which the defendant had an interest?
  5. At any time before or after you were served did the defendant transfer or deliver any property to you or to any person or place pursuant to your direction or consent and if so what was the consideration therefore?
  6. At any time after you were served did you pay, transfer or deliver any money or property to the defendant or to any person or place pursuant to the defendant’s direction or otherwise discharge any claim of the defendant against you?
  7.  If you are a bank or other financial institution, at the time you were served or at any subsequent time did the defendant have funds on deposit in an account in which funds are deposited electronically on a recurring basis and which are identified as being funds that upon deposit are exempt from execution, levy or attachment under Pennsylvania or Federal law? If so, identify each account and state the amount of funds in each account, and the entity electronically depositing those funds on a recurring basis.
  8.  If you are a bank or other financial institution, at the time you were served or at any subsequent time did the defendant have funds on deposit in an account in which the funds on deposit, not including any otherwise exempt funds, did not exceed the amount of the general monetary exemption under 42 Pa.C.S. §  8123? If so, identify each account.

Why Bank Account Garnishment is so Highly Recommended

Learn more about Bank Account Garnishment in Pennsylvania

Overall, sometimes you need a judgment to collect a debt. Once you have the judgment, you can sell personal assets or vehicles, but in my opinion, seizing a bank account or bank account garnishment  is the  fastest and most effective way to get paid. The moment the sheriff serves the Writ of Execution (and accompanying documents), ALL of the the debtor’s accounts are immediately frozen in their entirety, regardless if the account is higher than what is owed.  Once an account is  frozen, odds are your debtor will be calling you to resolve the matter fairly quickly. Do not release any garnishment on a bank account without verifying that your judgment has been paid.

There are certainly exceptions and other rules with garnishment of bank accounts which should be researched before beginning the collection process. This article should not be relied upon for legal advice, and we do not represent anyone without a signed engagement letter or confirmation thereof. To learn more, contact us about bank account garnishment and debt collection today.