This page has resources for people facing debt collection lawsuits, or whose wages and bank accounts are being garnished.
These guides are only for residents of Hamilton County, Ohio. If you are from another region, please contact your local legal aid and courts to find local rules.
You can be sued in court for credit card debt, auto loans, and medical debt. Hamilton County Municipal Court handles debt collection cases for up to $15,000.
Debt collection cases can be complicated with many steps and deadlines. You need to navigate the court process and decide how you want to handle the issue.
The rules of the court are strict. Understanding the court process is important to avoid losing the case by default -- without ever getting the chance to have your day in court or negotiate a settlement.
If I just got notified that a debt collector is suing me, what should I do? How can I protect myself? What happens if I don't do anything?
Once you receive legal notice of the lawsuit (served) you will have 28 days to file a response called an Answer.
If you don’t file an answer within 28 days of receiving the plaintiff’s complaint, they could get a “default judgment” and be awarded the whole amount automatically.
The Answer has 2 parts:
A sample answer you can use are here. You can also read this short guide to answering a debt collection lawsuit.
Here are the steps to file an Answer to a debt collection case:
Once you file your answer, you prevented the plaintiff from winning the case by default, but there are many steps to go. An Answer starts a long and complicated court process. Debt collection cases are complicated.
More paperwork and deadlines will be coming: You will receive other paperwork from the court or the other side. Almost always, there is a deadline associated with this paperwork. If you miss the deadlines, you could lose the case.
Reach out for help immediately to avoid losing the case: If you receive something you don’t understand, get legal help right away. If you miss a deadline or don’t properly respond to another part of the court process, the plaintiff could receive a judgment for the whole amount.
Consider trying to settle with the plaintiff: Knowing your options is important so you know how you want to handle the case. You can always reach out to the plaintiff or their attorney to work out a settlement that could involve a payment plan or paying a lower amount overall.
After you have filed an Answer, then the court process will begin. It may proceed as follows:
Answer: Stating your legal defense to what the debt collector says in the complaint.
Case Management Conference: In some cases, the Court will set a time to discuss the case and set a date for the trial. The Case Management Conference is not the trial. But you should still attend, to present your side of the case.
Discovery Period: Discovery allows both parties to get information from each other. You can ask the plaintiff for records related to your alleged debt. They may ask you for materials related to it.
If you do not respond to discovery requests within 28 days, you could lose the case. A guide to responding to discovery requests and requesting information from the other side is here.
Summary Judgment: If you do not respond to discovery or if the debt collector claims there are “no issues of material fact” in the case, they can file for summary judgment. This lets them ask the Court to award a judgment (winning the case) without having a trial.
Many debt collection cases do not make it past summary judgment. Here, the court is looking for actual evidence of the plaintiff’s claims and your defenses.
If you do not respond to a motion for summary judgment within 28 days, you could lose the case. A guide to responding to a motion for summary judgment is here.
Trial: Few debt collection cases actually go to trial. At the trial, the debt collector will need to prove that you owe them money, and you can present defenses. Before considering whether to go to trial, get legal help.
Can I make the lawsuit go away? How can I fight the lawsuit? How do I protect my rights and my money?
Debt collection lawsuits are complicated. You are at risk of the court awarding the debt collector a judgment, that will let them try to recover all the money they say you owe.
Please be aware of your options, so you can choose the best one for your situation.
Is someone taking part of your paycheck? Or is someone taking money out of your bank account, or another source of your money? Being garnished can be frightening and challenging to resolve.
Understand your rights and options in Hamilton County, Ohio if your wages, bank accounts, or other funds are being garnished after you have lost a debt collection case.
A wage garnishment is a legal procedure that lets a creditor collect a court judgment by taking money from your paycheck. The creditor must first win a judgment against you in court and send you a 15-day notice.
A non-wage garnishment, like a bank garnishment, is a legal procedure that lets a creditor collect a court judgment by taking money from things other than a wage. A non-wage garnishment is usually taken from a bank account. The creditor must first win a judgment against you in court before filing for a garnishment.
Use this guide to explore your options and answer common questions around wage and non-wage garnishments.
Can I stop the wage or bank garnishment? How do I challenge the garnishment, if I think it's illegal? Will bankruptcy make it go away?
Once the court process has led to a garnishment, there are only a few options.
Is there any limit on the amount they can garnish?
A creditor can garnish up to 25% of your “disposable income” from your paycheck.
Your “disposable income” is the amount of money you make each week minus income taxes.
Voluntary deductions for things like health and life insurance don’t reduce disposable income.
Can they take all my funds through a non-wage garnishment? Is there any limit on what they can garnish from my bank?
The creditor can garnish up to $550 of the money in your bank account. Through a non-wage garnishment, the creditor can take all the money you owe them from your bank, except for $550. That $550 is an exempt amount that they cannot take.
The creditor cannot garnish exempted money from your bank account.
Not all money in a bank account can be garnished. Things like social security, pensions, and other government benefits are usually exempt from garnishment.
If you have a mix of exempt and non-exempt funds in a bank account, the bank will use a “first-in, first-out” rule when determining what funds are exempt or not.
For example, if you receive $700 in social security on the 1st and then receive a paycheck of $200 on the 3rd and pay $600 for rent on the 5th, the bank would determine that you have $100 remaining in exempt social security income and $200 in non-exempt wages.
How long does a bank garnishment last?
Each non-wage garnishment is a 1-time attempt to collect. If the creditor does not collect the whole amount through the garnishment, they can file another to attempt to collect the rest.
If I don't think I owe money, how do I challenge the garnishment? Can I stop it through the court?
If you have received a garnishment notice, it is probably too late to challenge the debt.
The creditor has already been to court and won a judgment against you. The time for arguing about the debt has passed.
Didn’t know about the trial? You would have to get the lawsuit reopened and get a new trial. That is possible, but not easy. You can reach out to find a lawyer to help.
You went to court, but the judge made the wrong decision? You’d have to appeal the decision. That’s a hard fight and you’ll almost certainly need a lawyer.
You may be able to have a garnishment hearing at court. What will you be able to have the court look at, or change, at this hearing?
What can I bring up at a garnishment hearing at court?
The court will not listen to any argument about the judgment. The court will only hear things having to do with the garnishment itself. For example:
Will the court consider my living situation (like if I am unable to pay rent or eat after the money is garnished)?
No, the court will not consider these factors.
Can I be protected against debt collectors and court judgments ordering me to pay money?
If you are judgment-proof, your income and assets are exempt from garnishment or attachment. You can be judgment proof if:
What if I make minimum wage? Am I judgment-proof against wage garnishment?
Some of your income might be exempt from garnishment. The exempt amount equals 30 hours per week at the federal minimum wage.
In 2019, if your after-taxes paycheck is less than $217.50 weekly, it is totally protected. The creditor can take 25% of any amount over that.
Do the same minimum income protections apply to child support and income taxes?
No, they do not. There are different standards for wage garnishment, child support, and income taxes.
What if my wages are already being garnished 50% of income for child support? Can another 25% be taken for a judgment garnishment?
No, your wages cannot be garnished another 25% for a creditor, if you are already being garnished for child support. If this is happening, reach out for legal help.
What if there are multiple creditors who have gotten court judgments against me? How much of my wages can be garnished?
Yes, more than one creditor can garnish your wages at the same time.
But they still cannot get a total of more than 25% of the amount that is not exempt.
What if my employer doesn’t want to be bothered with doing garnishments? Are they allowed to end my employment because of this?
Your employer can only fire you because of wage garnishments if 2 or more garnishment notices have been sent to the employer.
If there has only been 1 garnishment notice, then your employer is not allowed to fire you based on this.