Authored By: Northwest Justice Project
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If a creditor has a judgment ordered by a court and wants to collect the money from you, you may receive an order to attend a Supplemental Proceedings court hearing. #0210EN
- Should I use this?
- What is a Supplemental Proceeding?
- What happens at a supplemental proceeding?
- Do I have to go to the supplemental proceeding?
- What happens when I go to court?
- What is “exempt property” and why does it matter?
- Can the creditor sell my house or my property?
- Can they garnish my wages to pay off my debt?
- What does “collection-proof” mean?
- I think I am collection-proof. Do I still have to go to court?
- Would it help to file for bankruptcy?
- I received a notice of Supplemental Proceedings. Can I get legal advice?
Should I use this?
Yes, you should use this if you received:
an Order for Examination of Judgment Debtor or
a Notice of Supplemental Proceeding or
an Order to Show Cause re: Supplemental Proceedings
*Different counties call this Order or Notice different things. They all mean the same thing.
What is a Supplemental Proceeding?
A creditor (someone you owe money) has a judgment ordered by a court. They want to collect the money from you. The creditor wants to know if you have property or income they can take. They will ask things such as:
Do you work? Who is your employer? How much do you earn?
Do you have any bank accounts, stocks, bonds?
Do you own a home? A vacation home?
Do you own a vehicle?
How much is your property worth?
*Court papers will call your creditor the judgment creditor. You are the judgment debtor. Here, we use creditor and debtor for short.
The order requires you to go to court to answer the creditor’s questions. This meeting is called a supplemental proceeding.
If you get an order signed by a judge to appear in court, you must appear. If you do not, the court may find you in contempt (you violated the court’s order). It can issue a warrant for your arrest.
*If the judgment is for medical debt, the judge may not issue a warrant if you do not appear for the hearing.
*You cannot be sent to jail because you cannot pay your debts. You may be sent to jail if you do not show up to court after getting a court order to appear.
What happens at a supplemental proceeding?
The creditor’s lawyer will ask you questions about your financial situation and whether you can pay the judgment. You have the right to be treated respectfully and ask the court to record the conversation before you begin. This recording may become useful if you feel the creditor’s lawyer is rude, or pressuring or threatening you, or you do not feel heard.
The creditor wants to know if:
Your wages (pay from your job), bank account, or other property can be garnished (taken before you receive it).
Your property can be sold.
You can agree with the creditor on another way to pay.
You are “collection-proof.” See below.
Do I have to go to the supplemental proceeding?
Yes. You must go. The creditor’s lawyer may offer to let you respond in writing instead of going to the hearing. If you receive documents that give you the option of going to the hearing, follow through with the creditor’s lawyer. Make sure the creditor’s lawyer cancels the hearing if you fill out the paperwork they send you.
What happens when I go to court?
When you appear in court, a judge will call out your case name. Listen closely for it. Stand up. Let the judge know you are there. Go to the front of the courtroom. The judge will put you under oath.
Usually, the judge will then have you leave the courtroom with the creditor's lawyer. Sometimes these meetings are in public areas of the courthouse, such as a hallway. Be careful that other people do not overhear your private information, like bank account numbers. You can ask the lawyer to move if you feel uncomfortable. The lawyer will ask you questions about your property and employment. The judge will not be with you.
*You do not need to have a lawyer, but you can bring a lawyer if you want to.
*Do not bring your children with you, if you can help it. The judge probably will not let them sit in the courtroom.
You will need to let the creditor’s lawyer know which of your property is exempt. We talk more about exempt property below.
*Be ready. Before you go to court, find out if you have exempt wages or property. Take all documents and information with you the order tells you to. Read How to Claim Personal Property Exemptions and Money that Cannot be Taken From You to Pay off a Debt.
You can stop the meeting and go back to the courtroom if the lawyer treats you badly. Examples: The lawyer is rude, asks questions that do not make sense, or is looking for information not related to your income or property. Tell the judge what is wrong. The judge will try to solve the problem.
You do not have to answer a question if you think the answer would be an admission of a crime, like fraud or theft. If you think this might be the case, ask the judge for time to talk to a lawyer.
You do not have to give the creditor’s lawyer any money or property at the supplemental hearing. All you have to do is give information about income and property.
*Do not agree to any voluntary account deductions. You should not give the creditor’s lawyer direct access to any bank accounts. If you have two or more creditors, and you give one creditor authority for an automatic account deduction, you are at risk of getting your wages garnished and money you voluntarily agreed to pay taken from your bank account at the same time.
What is “exempt property” and why does it matter?
The law protects—or “exempts”—some income and property from being taken from you to pay for a money judgment. Some kinds of income are exempt, including:
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Benefits
Social Security Disability, Retirement and Survivor benefits
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits
Aged, Blind, or Disabled (ABD) benefits
Child Support you receive
Federal student loans
Any federal payments issued in response to the COVID-19 pandemic (including stimulus payments and child tax credit money) until the end of the pandemic emergency declared by the governor of the State of Washington
Wages—part of your wages is exempt
If you owe debts from credit cards, doctor or hospital bills, utility bills, phone bills, personal loans from a bank or credit union, debts owed to a landlord or former landlord, or any other debt for personal, family, or household purposes (consumer debt), and you earn less than any of these amounts, none of your wages can be garnished:
$479.15 weekly (35x the state minimum hourly wage, which is $13.69/hour)
$958.30 every 2 weeks
$$1,038.16 twice a month
Even if you earn more than these amounts, you may still keep 35x the state minimum hourly wage or 80% of your net pay, whichever is more.
Read Money that Cannot be Taken From You to Pay off a Debt to learn more about exempt income and property.
*Most pensions are exempt from garnishment even after they are sent to you. But some are not. Do not have pension checks direct deposited into a bank account, if possible. See if the pension fund can mail pension checks directly to your home.
If a creditor tries to take money from your bank account, call CLEAR at 1-888-201-1014 for help. Also, read How to Claim Personal Property Exemptions and Money that Cannot be Taken From You to Pay off a Debt.
Some kinds of property are also exempt, including:
- Your home, where the equity value is the greater of (a) $125,000; or (b) the county median sale price of a single-family home in the preceding calendar year.
*Equity is the amount of money you would keep after you sold your home and paid off the mortgage and other liens. You can find the median sale price of homes in your county at https://wcrer.be.uw.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/41/2021/04/2020AnnualMedianPricesByCounty.pdf
- Clothing and jewelry up to $3,500 in value.
Household goods, appliances, furniture, yard equipment, provisions (food/groceries) and fuel up to $6,500 in value per person, and $13,000 per couple.
Cash. Up to $2,000 in a bank account for a judgment for consumer debt. (See above.)
Cars. Up to $3,250 of equity value in a car is exempt for a single person. For a married couple, $6,500 of equity value in two vehicles is exempt.
Can the creditor sell my house or my property?
A judgment is an automatic lien on your home. A lien on the property means you must pay off the judgment before you sell the property. The creditor cannot make you sell any of your property that is “exempt property.” However, if you have more equity in a home you live in than the amount you are allowed to exempt, the creditor could force a sale. If you are facing the forced sale of your home, contact CLEAR right away. (See contact information below.)
Can they garnish my wages to pay off my debt?
Yes, in some cases. A creditor can ask your employer to garnish your wages. A creditor can garnish your wages and your bank account at the same time.
*Money that Cannot be Taken From You to Pay off a Debt has more on when and how much income can be garnished.
If you can avoid it, do not get your paycheck by direct deposit. If you deposit your paycheck after your wages have been garnished, a creditor may claim the funds are no longer exempt as wages and may garnish your bank account. Never give creditors permission to withdraw money from your bank account.
What does “collection-proof” mean?
If you are collection-proof, a creditor can still sue you and win a judgment against you, but cannot take any of your income or property to pay off the judgment Even collection-proof debtors have to answer questions about their property. Failure to do so could result in a bench warrant.
You may not be collection-proof forever. Creditors may be able to collect from you in the future. (Examples: If you inherit money, re-enter the workforce after a disability, or get a higher-paying job.)
The judgment may become much larger as time passes because of additional interest and fees. A creditor can try to collect on a judgment for up to 20 years after the court ordered it. If your circumstances change (for example, you get a job or the equity in your home increases), contact CLEAR. (See below.) You may have other options, like bankruptcy.
I think I am collection-proof. Do I still have to go to court?
Yes. Answer the lawyer’s questions. Tell the lawyer about your exemptions. Tell the lawyer you think you are collection-proof. You should also tell the lawyer if you think your finances will not get better for a long time.
Would it help to file for bankruptcy?
Probably not. In most cases, you do not need to file for bankruptcy if you are collection-proof. A creditor cannot take any income or property from you, even if a court has entered a judgment saying you owe money.
However, if you earn more than $479.15 weekly, you may want to file for bankruptcy if your debts are for credit cards, unpaid rent, or medical expenses. (Usually the judge can “discharge” (cancel) these types of debt through the bankruptcy.) It is much cheaper to file a bankruptcy petition than to potentially lose wages you do have to garnishment.
Once you file your bankruptcy petition, creditors are “stayed” (stopped) from going ahead with a wage garnishment. If you get a discharge in your bankruptcy, creditors whose claims were discharged are permanently stopped from collecting these debts.
*Before filing for bankruptcy, talk to a lawyer. Whether bankruptcy makes sense for you depends on the facts of the case and the amounts of your debts. You can only file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy once every 8 years.
I received a notice of Supplemental Proceedings. Can I get legal advice?
Visit Northwest Justice Project to find out how to get legal help.