What should I do if my customer does not pay me?
Always make contact with the customer once a bill remains unpaid for more than 30 days but not later than 45 days.
If your customer is a larger organization, contact the person in charge of accounts payable. Be sure they have your invoice. Ask if there are reasons why your account has not been paid. There is as much anxiety on the other side of the phone as you may be feeling. Listen politely and never “lose your cool.”
Try to get a promise to pay by a certain date. If not, suggest a payment schedule over 2-3 months. Confirm the promises to pay by letter and email. Follow this up with a polite letter reminding the customer of the promise. Take notes about what you are told. The notes maybe valuable in or out of Court.
If the bill remains unpaid or the promises to pay are broken, contact our office to determine what you should do next.
Will I be able to collect the full amount due from my customer if I file a lawsuit?
If you file a law suit and the customer does not answer, you should be able to get a money judgment for the full amount you are owed plus court filing fees and Court costs. This is the easy part.
Now you have to enforce collection of your judgment. This is the challenging part. Enforced collection actions may include seizing a bank account, obtaining a wage garnishment, or seizing assets like cars, a home or office contents. You cannot do this yourself. You must obtain a Writ of Execution from the Court first. Then you must have it delivered to a Court Officer for service on the defendant who owes you the money.
Very often cases settle voluntarily but for less than the amount due. This is in exchange for certainty of payment and ease of collecting. This may include a payment schedule. Any settlement agreement should be signed by both sides and filed with the Court. This lets you enforce the right to payment. In case the settlement payments are not honored, I recommend getting a judgment for the full amount owed.
If your collection law suit does not settle, a judge will try the case. If you win, you will get a judgment for the amount you have proven to the judge that is owed to you. You will then have to try to collect your money. You can use the methods described above if the customer does not voluntarily pay you.
What happens if my customer files a bankruptcy?
You must immediately stop trying to collect your money.
Once a bankruptcy case is filed, you will get a letter from the Bankruptcy Court. This letter is important. It tells you to stop all efforts to collect money. You can get into serious trouble if you do not stop. The letter contains a Bankruptcy Court Judge's order that stays (stops) all actions to get money or property from the person or business that filed the bankruptcy case. This order is the automatic stay of collection.
Because bankruptcy law is complex and has many pitfalls, always speak to an experienced bankruptcy lawyer once you learn that your customer has filed a bankruptcy case. There may still be ways to get paid. Let's talk.
Can I force my customer to pay my legal fees and Court costs if I take them to Court?
If you win in Court, then the Judge may order your customer to pay for your filing fees and other costs of Court as part of a money judgment.
What about my attorney's fees? Can my customer be ordered to pay your legal fees?
Like so many other legal issues, it depends. As a general rule, each side must pay their own legal fees. The exception to this practice is when there is a statute or law that says the losing party pays the winner's legal fees or there is a written agreement that says your customer must repay your “reasonable” attorney's fees.
Can I still collect a debt if my customer files a bankruptcy?
The short answer is “no.”
You may be able to get money if there are assets for a Trustee to sell above the value of what your customer is allowed to keep to get a fresh financial start in life.
You may be able to file a proof of claim with the Bankruptcy Court Clerk's Office for your debt to be considered for any payment. The full debt may not get paid. You may see some money.
You may be able to object to your customer discharging your debt.
Speak with our experienced bankruptcy lawyer to determine your best course of action.
How long does it take to get a judgment in New Jersey?
If your customer does not respond to your lawsuit by filing an answer to your complaint within 35 days of receiving your suit papers, you may be able to obtain a default judgment on the 36th day.
What happens after I obtain a judgment?
Nothing unless you or your lawyer take further action. Here is what our office can do to help you collect your money:
- Have the judgment docketed with the Superior Court Judgment Unit in Trenton to create a state wide judgment that may prevent the customer from selling or mortgaging real estate unless your judgment is paid.
- Obtain a Writ of Execution from the Court Clerk and give it to the Court Officer or County Sheriff and have them seize bank accounts, vehicles, machinery or other assets.
- Send the losing party who owes you the money a list of questions (This is called an information Subpoena) about their assets and where they keep them. The questions MUST be answered in 14 days. Then, send the Sheriff or Court Officers after the assets.