Welcome to Warrant In Debt Info
Warrant In Debt—What Is it?
A warrant in debt is the paper you get when a bill collector is suing you in the Virginia General District Court.
“Warrant” might sound like it's a criminal law problem. It's not: you can’t go to jail; but if you ignore it, your pay and bank account can get garnished.
If you don't want to get garnished, let's talk about what you should do.
Your First Warrant In Debt Court Date
The way you get a warrant in debt is for the sheriff to tape it to your door. The mailman will often also bring you a copy. The warrant in debt will have a return date. The return date is when you should go to court. You can find that return date in the upper right hand corner. (Where it says Hearing Date and Time.)
If you miss the return date, they get a judgment. Ten days after the judgment, then they can get the garnishment.
Around here, most people don’t show up. When you don't show up, what you say is “feel free to garnish me.” And if they can find where you work, or where you bank, that's what they do.
(Sometimes people call the lawyer for the bill collector and ask, do I have to come to court? And usually the answer to that is, no—you don’t have to come to court. They are not lying—you don’t have to come to court. Here's what they don't tell you: if you don't come to court they can start garnishing you in ten days.)
Most people who do show up, just admit they owe the money.
The judge says, “do you owe this money?”
“Yes, but I can’t pay it right now.” Judge, “OK, you can discuss it with that lawyer after court.”
The judge is telling you the truth, too. You can discuss it with that lawyer after court. However that lawyer now has the right to garnish you; so you don't have a lot to discuss.
Often, the lawyer will agree to accept payments. Why? Because when you make payments they know where your bank account is. Then when you are late on one payment, oops, you get garnished. Your bank account is frozen.
(When you get a garnishment, the garnishment paper has a court date, too. People are surprised the garnishment starts right away. That's because the court date on the garnishment is the stop-date, not the start-date, of the garnishment.)
And no, it doesn't do any good to tell the judge you can't afford to pay. The ONLY judge who cares about whether you can pay is a bankruptcy judge. Bankruptcy judges worry full time about whether you can pay, so the other judges don’t have to worry about it at all. And they don’t.
“YOUR HONOR, I WANT A TRIAL. AND I WANT A BILL OF PARTICULARS.”
So go to court on your warrant in debt return date. When the judge calls your case, you need to step up behind one of the podiums (the one the collection lawyer isn’t using) and claim your rights under Virginia law (and also the Constitution.) “Your Honor, I want a trial. And I want a Bill of Particulars.”
One of the judges in Loudoun will really crowd you to plead guilty, but they can't make you. Your right to a trial is right there, on the Warrant in Debt form. See where it says, “To dispute this claim, you must appear on the return date for the judge to set another date for trial.” That’s what you are doing. You are disputing the claim and asking the judge to set another date for trial.
Right under that is place on the form for the Judge to order a Bill of Particulars. The Bill of Particulars is their proof that you owe the money, you owe it to them, and how much you owe. Sometimes they include a lot of that with the warrant in debt. Sometimes they don’t. But either way, it’s worth asking again.
Your Warrant In Debt Trial
If you show up for your first court date, don’t plead guilty and do ask for a trial, you’ll get a trial date two or three months. At the trial you need to stop the creditor from proving that you owe the money. The creditor has to put on evidence. If you know the law of evidence, you may be able to make the right objections and keep their evidence from being admitted.
You can use the couple months to learn the law of evidence; or hire a lawyer who does; or try to work out a settlement.
(There are not many lawyers who take cases to fight against warrants in debt. Jason Krumbein does in Richmond. Brian Lee in Northern Virginia. You can expect to have to pay for half a day of the lawyers time, maybe more.)
(If you want to try to work out a settlement, do it after you show up for court and ask for a trial. That gives the lawyer for the creditor the idea that you know a little about your rights—and so the lawyer has some reason to be easier you.)
If you plan to fight them at the trial—with or without a lawyer—you need to first file your grounds of defense. Your grounds of defense are the reasons you can say you don’t owe the money. At your first court date, the judge will give you a date for your grounds of defense. Miss that, and, you just pled guilty.
(Virginia’s system makes it easy to plead guilty to owing the money. Ignoring the first court date—you just pled guilty. Showing up and admitting you owe the money—you just pled guilty. Missing your grounds of defense deadline—oops, you just pled guilty.)
So, if you send in your grounds of defense, then you have the right to show up for trial and defend yourself.
You have a better chance at trial if you are being sued by a debt collector—somebody you never heard of like Asset Acceptance, NCO, CG Services, Cavalry Portfolio—rather than being sued by the company you dealt with, like Ford Motor Credit, Bank of America or Inova. If you know how to object to their evidence and make them prove that they really own the debt, you have a chance of winning.
If this debt has bounced around from one bill collector to another, you might also win on the statute of limitations. The statute of limitations means if they left you alone for too long, they are too late. Statute of Limitations means they are SOL.
But they are only SOL if you say so. Statute of limitations is an affirmative defense—meaning you have to claim it; the judge won’t bring it up on his own. (And you’d have to put it in your grounds of defense.)
How long is the statute of limitations? It depends. Maybe three years, maybe five. (Sorry I can’t be more specific than that.) It depends.
For Most People Bankruptcy Is the Best Way to Stop a Warrant in Debt
The truth is, most people do NOT win at the warrant in debt trial. They do end up with a judgment. The judgment wrecks their credit for years. And judgment usually leads to garnishment.
(Now people say they don't want to file bankruptcy because they want to protect their “credit.” Well, if you have a warrant in debt, the debt collector, or bank, or both, has been reporting you late already—maybe for more than year. When you put of filing bankruptcy, you aren't protecting your good credit. You are protecting your bad credit.)
Filing bankruptcy will make your credit score go up!
For most people, the best way to avoid getting a judgment and garnishment is to file bankruptcy.
President Trump says he's “very proud” of his frequent use of the bankruptcy law.
I'm Northern Virginia bankruptcy lawyer Robert Weed. I've shared this info on warrant in debt, because I think you should know all your choices.
But I can tell you from the experience of 15,000 bankruptcy cases, for most people, bankruptcy works.
Bankruptcy gives you a new start in 5 ways.
1. The creditors can't garnish you.
2. They can't call you and they can't bill you.
3. Your credit score will go up.
4. You'll sleep better.
5. You'll be smarter about your financial future.
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