Collection Procedures under Pennsylvania Law

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WHAT HAPPENS IF A LAW SUIT IS FILED AGAINST YOU?

Any creditor can sue you if you get behind in your payments. The creditor may file a law suit at the District Justice's Office if it's for a small amount, or may sue you in the County Court of Common Pleas, or in Federal Court. The creditor must pay a filing fee, and must pay a PA constable or sheriff to serve you with a copy of the Complaint. If you are served with a complaint, you should read it carefully. The front page usually says what you must do to defend the law suit. If you are sued at the District Justice, you must call the District Justice's Office and tell them that you plan to appear at the hearing. If you are sued in the county or federal court, you must file a written response within 20 days. If you do nothing, you will lose automatically. If you believe that you do not owe all the money that the creditor is suing you for, or if it has been several years since you have made a payment on the account, you may want to call NLSA for additional information.

WHAT HAPPENS IF YOU LOSE THE LAW SUIT?

The court will enter a judgment against you. A judgment is basically a sheet of paper that says that you owe someone a certain amount of money. A copy will be given to you and the creditor. You usually have 30 days to appeal judgments. If you do not appeal, the creditor can pay a PA constable or sheriff money to try to collect the money from you.

HOW DOES THE CONSTABLE OR SHERIFF TRY TO COLLECT MONEY?

They can freeze (garnish) your bank account. If that happens, you can call NLSA. They may be able to help you file a bankruptcy to stop the garnishment.
The PA constable or sheriff can also sell your property. If you own a house or a car that has value, a creditor may decide that it is worthwhile to spend money to sue you and to ask a constable or sheriff to sell those items.

CAN A PA CONSTABLE OR SHERIFF SELL YOUR HOUSEHOLD GOODS TO COLLECT UPON A JUDGMENT?

Yes, some creditors are mean enough to do that. Here's how it works. The sheriff comes to your home and levies upon (makes a list of) your personal property. The law requires that you let the officer in, but ask for identification first. You cannot hide, move, sell, or give away the levied items. If you threaten to do so, the officer will feel that he has a legal duty to take your stuff that day and put it in storage to keep it safe until the day of the sale. The officer will give you copy of the levy and will give you notice of when the sale will be held. If you ever receive notice that a constable or sheriff plans to sell something, you can call NLSA. They may be able to help you file a bankruptcy to stop the sale.

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