How to Collect from the Debtor’s Bank Account or Safety Deposit Box
If the judgment debtor has not paid the judgment debt when it is due, or made arrangements to pay it over time, California law gives the judgment creditor the right to have the money taken out of the debtor’s bank or credit union account, safety deposit box etc., and sent to you. The legal process for taking this money is called a “levy”.
(See California Code of Civil Procedure, Sections 699.080, 700.140 and 700.160)
The general process for collecting a judgment from a debtor’s bank account or safety deposit box is similar throughout California, but there may be some differences from one county to another. For example, in many counties the Sheriff is the most commonly-used levying officer, while in other counties, someone else (like a registered process server) might fill that role.
To collect from the debtor’s bank account or safety deposit box:
Step 1. Get a Writ of Execution (Form EJ-130) issued by the court clerk.
(To learn how to get a writ issued, click here.)
NOTE: Once you have filed a Writ of Execution on the judgment debtor’s property, he or she may file a Claim of Exemption (Form EJ-160) on the property. These are assets that California law make exempt from being used to pay court judgments. If a judge approves the exemption, you will not be able to collect on that specific property.
AND, at the same time, fill out, file, and pay the filing fee for:
- Notice of Levy (Enforcement of Judgment) (Form EJ-150)
The court clerk will stamp the two forms and give the originals back to you.
Step 2. Make at least 3 copies of both forms that have the court stamp on them. Keep one set for your own file.
Step 3. Write a letter of instructions to the levying officer (often the County Sheriff) that explains what you want done. It should include:
- The name and address of the judgment debtor;
- The name and address of the branch of the bank where the debtor’s account is (Usually, you do not need to have a bank account number to do this. You only need to know the branch where the account is maintained, or where the safe deposit box is located.);
- Your name, address and contact information so the money can be sent to you.
- The date you wrote the letter, and your signature.
Step 4. Hire a Registered Process Server (RPS) and give them:
- The letter of instructions to the levying officer,
- 2 sets of the forms that have the court stamp on them, and
- a check to cover the fee for levying the debtor’s bank account that the levying agency in your county will charge. (You will need to contact the appropriate levying agency to find out the amount or money it requires.)
NOTE: If you cannot afford to pay the levy fees, you can ask the court for a fee waiver. To learn how to do this click here.
The Registered Process Server will then open a file with the Sheriff’s Office (or other levying officer.)
- This file will include the Writ of Execution, the Notice of Levy, your letter of instructions, and proof of your payment for the levy fees.
Once the Registered Process Server has filed the documents with the levying agency, he or she can serve the levy on the bank.
After serving the levy on the bank, the Registered Process Server has 5 days to file the original Writ of Execution and Proof of Service (on the bank) with the levying office.
The bank will notify the judgment debtor, and then freeze funds in the debtor’s account for 10 days.
NOTE: The financial institution may not be able to release the money to the sheriff because, for example, the money is part of child support or disability funds. If this is the case, the financial institution must prepare a Memorandum of Garnishee, Form EJ-152, and file it with the court. This will explain why the funds cannot be released. You will be given a copy.
If no one objects and the debtor claims no exemption, the bank will then release the funds to the sheriff (or other levying officer), who will contact you and release the funds to you.
The sheriff will return the Writ to the court with an accounting of all action taken.
IMPORTANT: When the entire judgment debt has been paid, you must file an Acknowledgment of Satisfaction of Judgment form with the court. See the section on Satisfaction of Judgment.
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