Since 1997 | Your Pittsburgh Law Firm
Your Pittsburgh Law Firm

Enforcing Judgements

How To Collect Debt In Pennsylvania

Flaherty Fardo are experienced Pennsylvania debt collection attorneys. Debt collection is defined as the attempt to collect money owed from another party. Each state has different laws regarding the enforcement and collections of debts owed.

Our Pittsburgh law firm handles all types of debt collection cases throughout the entire state of Pennsylvania including:

  • personal debt & money owed,
  • small business debt / large corporate debt,
  • credit card debt / student loan debt,
  • hospital / medical debt,
  • creditor’s rights,
  • debtor’s rights, and
  • foreign judgments.

READ TOP ARTICLE: The 5 Steps How to Collect Debt In Pennsylvania

The 5 Steps of the Debt Collection Process

The Pennsylvania debt collection process typically involves 5 steps.

  1. Investigate the debtor
  2. The demand letter
  3. Getting the judgment
  4. Collecting the judgment
  5. Reviving/satisfying the judgment

Step 1: Investigate The Debtor

The first step  in any debt collection case should be to thoroughly examine the debtor and their assets. It is important to do pre-lawsuit investigations on websites such as Pennsylvania Corporate Name Search; Facebook and/or Linkedin.

You should also do a property record search on any county property assessments sites if possible, to see if the debtor owns any real property. For example, in Allegheny County, you can actually pay to search by owners last name.

In addition, a thorough search of all past and present lawsuits against the debtor should researched. If the debtor has a number of open lawsuits, then it makes little sense to waste time sending a demand letter. On the other hand, if the debtor has no lawsuits, or satisfies any pending lawsuits quickly, then a demand letter may avoid the cost and delays of litigation.

This research should always be done without alerting the debtor, if possible. This research not only aids in litigation if necessary, but can also become important later if the defendant refuses to voluntarily pay a judgment. It is best to have this investigation prior to contacting the debtor to avoid any attempts by the debtor to hide assets during litigation.

Step 2. The Demand Letter

In appropriate cases, the next step is the demand letter. The demand letter can be the easiest and potentially the fastest way to get paid. A demand letter is typically sent by an attorney certified mail demanding payment of the debt.

There are federal and state requirements when demand letters are written from debt collectors, which mandate that the demand letter inform the debtor of the following:.

  1. the name of the creditor;
  2. the amount of the debt;
  3. the opportunity to dispute the debt, and/or
  4. the opportunity to request written verification of the debt.

Demand letters are NOT a prerequisite to filing lawsuits in Pennsylvania. However, a well-drafted demand letter is a viable option for collecting pre-suit. Payment plans prior to filing suit can also help pay for the cost of the lawsuit if necessary.

Depending upon the circumstances, we typically set a 15 day notice to pay. If the demand letter does not produce payment, then legal action is usually necessary to collect the debt.

Step 3. Filing Suit To Get The Judgment

The purpose of a debt collection lawsuit is to get the ‘judgment’.  A judgment is an official decree that a specific debtor(s) owes another party money. The judgment is filed as a public record and released to credit reporting agencies.  The judgment also immediately acts as a lien against any real property owned by the debtor.

The process involves filing a complaint in civil action. If the defendant fails to respond in 30 days, a default judgment can be entered. If the defendant denies owing the money, then a hearing is held and an award is issued on favor of the prevailing party.

The defendant does not legally owe the money until proven in court and a judgment is entered.

Depending upon where the lawsuit is filed (i.e. magistrate, county arbitration, county general docket), there can be multiple appeals available for the defendant to delay payment. For this reason, there is strategy involved in deciding in what jurisdiction a debt collection lawsuit should be filed.

If a debtor still does not pay after a judgment is obtained, then the creditor must take appropriate legal action to enforce the judgment.

Step 4. Getting Paid After The Judgment

Once a creditor has a judgment, the next step is to collect the judgment.

Unless a debtor voluntarily pays, enforce of the judgment is necessary. In Pennsylvania, creditors can authorize the sheriff’s office to perform certain execution attempts on the debtors assets. These include:

  • scheduling a sheriff sale of personal property of the debtor,
  • scheduling a sheriff sale real property owned by the debtor,
  • Selling vehicles, boats, motorcycles, ATV’s and other assets of the debtor, and/or
  • seizing and garnishing bank accounts owned by the debtor.

Before any decisions are made on spending additional monies in executing, creditors may also take depositions and conduct written discovery concerning the debtors assets.

Step 5: Reviving/Satisfying The Judgment

Once a judgment has been obtained, creditors are not obligated to satisfy the judgment until the full judgment, all applicable interest, and any and all court costs have been paid in full. Interest accrues on Pennsylvania judgments at 6% per annum from the date the judgment was originally filed.

If a debtor refuses to pay a judgment, and execution attempts have failed, creditors should be certain to revive the judgment every 5 years. If a judgment is not revived in 5 years, creditors may lose important rights in future attempts to collect the money owed. Judgments may be revived up to 20 years in Pennsylvania.

Case Results

Past success does not guarantee results but does help demonstrate our experience and knowledge as successful Pennsylvania trial attorneys.

$12.5 Million

PA Trial Lawyers - Pennsylvania Judgments

This litigation case involved helping to domesticate one of the largest money judgments in Lawrence County, Pennsylvania. Ultimately we prevailed and won a judgment against the defendant in the amount of $12,500,000.00.

$500,000.00

Business Litigation - Resolving Conflicts

This case involved a property dispute between two landowners. Initially, our client was sued and hired us to defend them. We advised that counterclaims should be filed. After a multiple year contentious litigation, the case was finally resolved by our client being compensated in the amount of $500,000.00. 

$650,000.00

Business Litigation - Land Disputes

This was a real estate litigation case concerning market value of an eminent domain taking. Eminent domain is often defined as the power of the federal, state or local government to take private property and convert it into public use. Property owner was eventually awarded in excess of $650,000.00.

Flaherty | Fardo | Rogel | Amick

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"I had the good fortune of hiring Jaclyn DiPaola to recover a $7,000 deposit that did not services as promised to my firm. She recovered the full amount. She was professional as to the law as the proper sets that we needed to follow, knowledgeable as to the process that we needed to follow. Jaclyn was responsive in the fact when the other party did not send the check as promised, she followed and demanded same day wire. I would hire her again without hesitation."

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Debt Collection

 FAQs

What Is Pennsylvania Debt Collection?

Pennsylvania debt collection includes collection of money owed from one individual or business to another. In order to collect debt in Pennsylvania, a creditor typically needs to obtain a money judgment first. This is a legal determination that money is legally owed. Once a judgment is obtained, a creditor then has certain legal abilities to enforce or execute on the judgment in order to get paid.

What Is The Legal Process For Pennsylvania Debt Collection?

If you or your business is owed money, there is typically a 3-step process to Pennsylvania debt collection.

  • Step 1 is typically a demand letter. A demand is optional for most Pennsylvania debt collection cases.
  • Step 2 is filing a debt collection lawsuit.
  • Step 3 is enforcing and executing on the judgment which can include garnishing or 'freezing' bank accounts and/or having a sheriff sale of personal assets, vehicles, or real property owned by the debtor.
Step 1: The Pennsylvania Debt Collection Demand Letter:

Step 1 is the demand letter.

There are federal and state requirements when demand letters are written from debt collectors. The demand letter typically includes:

  • the name of the creditor;the amount of the debt;
  • the opportunity to dispute the debt, and/or
  • the opportunity to request written verification of the debt.

Demand letters also often include a deadline by which to respond or pay.

Demand letters are NOT a prerequisite to filing law-suits in Pennsylvania. However, a well-drafted demand letter is a viable option for collecting pre-suit. Payment plans prior to filing suit can also help pay for the cost of the lawsuit, if necessary. If a demand letter does not produce payment, then legal action is usually necessary to collect.

Step 2: Filing A Pennsylvania Debt Collection Lawsuit:

Pennsylvania Debt Collection is a strategic game that requires skilled attorneys to collect. If you want to collect Pennsylvania debt, then most often a civil lawsuit is necessary. The process involves filing a complaint in civil action requesting JUDGMENT against the defendant (debtor).

If the debtor disputes the allegations of the complaint, then the defendant can file an ANSWER, AFFIRMATIVE DEFENSES, and/or a COUNTERCLAIM.

The defendant does not legally owe the money until proven in court and a judgment is entered.

Depending upon where the lawsuit is filed (i.e. magistrate, county arbitration, county general docket), there can be multiple appeals available for the defendant to delay.

There are strategic decisions to determining where to file and the most efficient way to collect. Although a money judgment acts as a lien on all real property in Pennsylvania, it does not guarantee payment of the debt. Most often, enforcement of the judgment is necessary.

Step 3. Enforcing The Pennsylvania Money Judgment:

The goal of the lawsuit is to not just obtain a money judgment, it is to collect the money owed. To collect on the money judgment, sometimes it is necessary for creditors to force a sheriff sale of personal property, real property, vehicles and/or assets of the debtor. Also, seizing a bank account can be the most effective way to collect your money. Pennsylvania is a debtor friendly state because marital property is exempt and wages cannot be garnished (absent very limited circumstances). Please read more below on How to Enforce Pennsylvania Judgments.

How Long Are Pennsylvania Judgments Valid For?

Pennsylvania judgments are valid for 5 years. Judgments can be revived every 5 years and should be revived if a creditor is attempting to actively collect on the debt. Judgments also act as a lien against real property for up to 20 years or longer if properly revived.

What Is The Statute Of Limitations For Debt Collection In Pennsylvania?

Most debt collection cases stem from a breach of a written or oral agreement or contract. The statute of limitations for breach of contracts in Pennsylvania is 4 years from when the party knew, had reason to know or should have known of the breach. Accordingly, payment of a debt can toll or extend the statute of limitations from the time of the last payment.

How Do I Know If My Debt Collection Case Is Collectible?

The answer is you may not ever know until you try. You can do background checks to determine assets, vehicles, bank accounts etc. However, Pennsylvania debt collection is not a game of certainty. Many times, we will collect debt on cases we thought may be difficult, and other times individuals with plenty of cash are able to avoid debt collection.

The keys to collecting are patience and consistency. Once you obtain the money judgement, you need to be smart about how much you will pay in attempting execution on the judgment and about what other options are available.

Each case is different, but more often than not, debt can be collected if the party remains persistent. Also, it is critical to do pre-lawsuit investigations on websites such as Pennsylvania Corporate Name Search; Facebook and/or Linkedin.

What Do Debt Collection Attorneys Typically Charge In Pennsylvania?

Debt collectors in Pennsylvania include both attorneys and non-attorneys. Most Pennsylvania debt collection attorneys offer services on hourly, flat fee, and/or contingency fee arrangements (meaning they do not get paid unless they collect). Depending on the specifics of the case, we offer hourly and/or contingency fee arrangements for our clients.

Depending upon the age and/or amount of the debt, most contingency fees range between 25% to 50%. Many collection firms will charge clients 50% of the debt recovered, and then hire law firms at 25%. Most clients who are owed money are better off hiring attorneys directly.

If you are considering hiring a debt collection lawyer, you should inquire about all three type of debt collection fee agreements.

How Do You Enforce Debt Collection Judgments in Pennsylvania?

Getting a Pennsylvania judgment is not enough to collect on a debt and money owed to you or your business. Obtaining the judgment is only one step in the Pennsylvania debt collection process. Most attorneys can obtain judgment against debtors and defendants who do not respond to lawsuits. This is called the default judgment. Obtaining the judgment is usually the easiest part of the debt collection process.

Pennsylvania debt collection means understanding Pennsylvania sheriff sales.

The next step is executing upon the judgment. Pennsylvania does not allow wage garnishment except in certain landlord / tenant cases and only skilled Pennsylvania Debt Collection attorneys know what to do after the judgment is entered.

Many attorneys, businesses and individuals have relied upon the expertise of our Pittsburgh law firm in collecting judgments they were all unable to collect.

There are limited options in Pennsylvania to enforce and execute upon judgments. Basically, Pennsylvania creditors have 5 options:

  1. Garnish and Seize Bank Accounts.
  2. Garnish Money owed From 3rd Parties.
  3. Sheriff Levy and Sale of Vehicles.
  4. Sheriff Levy and Sale of Personal or Business Property.
  5. Foreclosure of Real Property.

Each Pennsylvania county has different local rules for enforcing and executing upon judgments.

Choosing the best execution strategy is important so as not to waste client’s money. The last thing most of our clients want to do is throw good money at bad money. Skilled Pennsylvania collection attorneys also need to understand how marital property and claims for exemption can affect execution of judgments.

We often perform crucial discovery in aid of execution, including interrogatories in aid of execution and depositions in aid of executions to best ascertain the financial solvency of the debtors. This experience in executing and enforcing upon judgments gives our clients the best advantage for collecting their money owed.

You need an experienced Pennsylvania debt collection attorney if you are going to collect on a judgment in state or out of state. We fully evaluate the possibilities of bankruptcy, claims for exemptions, and the ability to hide assets in every case.

We offer free consultations at all levels throughout the litigation process, and we are often eager to assist in enforcing judgments, which have already been entered. We are also able to assist with judgments entered in Pennsylvania magistrates’ offices. There is a distinct process for entering magistrate judgments with the county courts and you need experienced debt collection attorneys to collect.

For a free consultation call Noah Paul Fardo, Esq. or Shawn T. Flaherty, Esq. at our offices at 412.802.6666 or toll free at 1.877.744.3476.

How Does Flaherty Fardo Collect Debt?

Flaherty Fardo, LLC takes extreme pride in its ability to collect Pennsylvania debt and money owed for both individuals and businesses. Our clients consist of:

  • Individuals;
  • Corporations, LLC’s, Partnerships;
  • Large and small business owners,
  • Banks;
  • Credit unions;
  • Collection agencies;
  • Mortgage companies.

When the collection agencies cannot collect a debt, they call our Pittsburgh law firm for help.

Since 1999, we have helped creditor’s recover monies and debts for student loans, defaulted mortgages, and everyday account receivables including money loaned. We are also experienced in enforcing Pennsylvania judgments.

These days, small business owners cannot afford not to be paid for their goods and services. We have helped our business clients engage in pre-litigation, litigation and post-litigation strategies, including repossession, seizure of bank accounts and sheriff sales of personal and business property.

There are times for filing suit in collections and there are times to negotiate. We help our clients make the best overall business decisions to collect their money fast. Our experience as Pennsylvania debt collection attorneys has helped us collect for all types of individuals and businesses.

How Do You Find Assets To Collect On?

We are skilled at tracking defendants and their assets. Our computer research allows us to track individuals, corporations and to inventory their assets. We routinely hire skilled private investigators to research the location of assets, vehicles and bank account information. When debtors hide, our hired investigators find them. We have personal items repossessed and will authorize the repossession of vehicles in appropriate cases. We collect large sums of money by garnishing and seizing bank accounts.

We are also aggressive litigators if need be. Debtors lie. If you are going to collect debt in Pennsylvania, you are going to be lied to. It takes experience in dealing with debtors, to understand when they intend to pay versus when they are misleading you. We can be compassionate if it makes sense for our clients. This is fine line that only experienced Pennsylvania debt collection attorneys understand.

Does Your Law Firm Cover The Entire State Of Pennsylvania for Debt Collection?

Yes. We offer legal services in every county in Pennsylvania and have the knowledge, skill and expertise to collect debt from even the most difficult debtors. We spend considerable time ensuring that we are familiar with the local rules of each of the 67 counties in Pennsylvania so that our national clients do not need more than one law firm in Pennsylvania.

Our current national clients, including large banks and student loan agencies, have trusted us for over a decade to collect their outstanding debt and monies owed. We keep clients because we produce results.

We offer our aggressive services on a contingency basis, hourly basis, and/or a flat fee depending on the prospects of collection and the wealth of the defendant debtor.

Do You Represent Out-of-state Clients and Record Foreign Judgments?

Yes. Flaherty Fardo, LLC works with law firms and collection agencies all over the United States in transferring judgments and in collecting Pennsylvania debt. We have assisted law firms from all over the country including Texas, California, Arizona, Florida, Maryland, Ohio, West Virginia, Colorado, and Michigan in collecting Pennsylvania debt.

We act as general counsel for the entire state of Pennsylvania for student loan agencies, banks and mortgage companies. Out of State law firms have relied upon our collection law experience and consistency in handling their Pennsylvania debt collections since 1999. We take each and every debt collection case seriously, and will often stay on cases for years, renewing the judgments after 5 years, if necessary.

Will Your Law Firm Pay Referral Fees To Out-of-State Lawyers?

Yes. We offer reasonable contingency fees to ensure that out of state law firms and collection agencies are able to profit as well through our efforts. When contacted by out of state law firms, we realize that their reputation is also on the line. The out of state law firms also have clients to answer to.

We also believe that out of state law firms making the referral should profit by the referral. This method and belief has helped us form relationships all over the country and has led to a number of additional referrals for our Pittsburgh law firm. We offer free consultations and will gladly research the debtors assets free of charge before discussing potential representation.

Do You Offer Free Consultations On All Debt Collection Cases?

Yes. Flaherty Fardo does offer free consultations on any and all Pennsylvania debt collection cases. It is common for us to talk and consult with potential clients to help them understand the debt collection process in PA and to decide whether our debt collection and/or litigation services make financial sense for the client. Free consultations can be made by calling our office or emailing us at info@pghfirm.com.

Flaherty | Fardo | Rogel | Amick

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