Start Up Costs for a Judgment Recovery Business

One of the questions I am asked most often is what start up costs are involved with getting a judgment recovery business open for business and off the ground. I know that it stands to reason that if even one person is asking the question, then ten more people are wondering the same thing.

Any new business, regardless of what it is, will require an investment of some sort before putting out the welcome mat – there’s just no way around it. You’ve got to spend it to make it, but start up costs for a judgment recovery operation are surprisingly low.

By comparison, consider that the average franchise requires thousands of dollars of investment capital. For example, a Subway restaurant will cost $12,500 cash just for the name, and an additional investment ranging from $92,050 to $222,800 – and that’s just to get the door open. You’d need to rent or buy a storefront, hire and train employees, buy equipment and inventory, and buy advertising just for starters. Talk about sticker shock!

I’d love to be able to give you a specific, solid start up figure for a judgment recovery business - but the truth is, there’s just no way to do it. Rather than just throw some generic figures out there, I spent some time poking around today to try and offer up a realistic cost outline.

You’ll need:

A Dedicated Business Telephone Line:
A traditional business ‘land line’ averages $50/month, if you keep the bells and whistles to a minimum. A great low-cost alternative to that would be a VOIP (voice over internet protocol) program, like Vonage. VOIP works through your Internet connection. Vonage‘s Small Business Basic plan includes local service, long distance, a FAX line, call waiting, voicemail, caller ID and even call forwarding – all for $39.99/month.

A Business License from your City or County:
Annual licensing fees are around $25-$60, depending on where you are, and whether or not you have employees. The great majority of states only require a generic business license, although a very few states do require collection agency licensing.

Locking File Storage:
Sensitive data, like consumer credit reports, bank account information and social security numbers are required to be locked away from potentially prying eyes. You can use an existing desk drawer (if it locks), or you can pick up a locking file cabinet from Wal-Mart for $59. Even a garage sale find would work!

Stationery (Letterhead, envelopes, business cards):
Homemade stationery, on quality paper will do – so long as you keep it simple and professional. The cost for a local printing company to print it will depend on the design and quantity. But you can usually order enough to get started for under $100. Try VistaPrint.com for free business cards – you’d just need to pay the shipping and handling cost.

Post Office Box:
Unless you plan on having a commercial location (most prefer to be home-based), you’ll need a post office box. If you rent a box from the US Postal Service, it starts at $10 for 6 months. Some people opt for a private mail box service, like MailBoxes Etc., which is about $50 for 6 months. And, don’t forget postage, at $0.44 per piece of mail.

Asset Location Expenses:
Locating judgment debtors and their assets (bank accounts, employment, property, etc.) is a key factor to your income. In addition to free resources – like public records - you’ll need access to non-public data as well. Consumer credit reports average $7, depending on what resource you decide to use when obtaining them. You’ll also want access to other types of private information, like banking detail reports, property searches and people locates. You’ll typically spend around $10 – $15 for basic asset location reports for each case.

Court Filing and Levying Fees:
While there is typically no cost to research civil judgment files (they’re public record), or to file the document to assign the judgment into your name, you will have court filing and levying fees when it’s time to seize assets through the court. Figure on spending $35-$50 per enforcement procedure. The cool thing about that is that your court filing and levying fees are legally added to the judgment and the judgment debtor has to pay for them. Any other expenses, like asset location costs, are reimbursed to yourself off the top of what you collect.

Seriously, as far as must-have expenses go, that’s all I could think of! There’s a pretty nifty breakdown on costs vs. income on the main page of my website, if you need some clarity on how much your bottom line will be. Obviously, the costs to locate assets and acting on that information will vary depending on how many judgments you’re working on at the time, but hopefully this information will help you realistically determine what you’ll need to get started.

BIO: Christina Smiley is the founder and owner of Sierra Judgment Recovery, established in 1997. She has helped thousands of people make money with a home based business by providing professional judgment recovery training.

51 thoughts on “Start Up Costs for a Judgment Recovery Business

    • Hi John,

      While we do make some nominal income from the sale of training materials, our primary income at Sierra Judgment Recovery is still the enforcement of civil judgments.

      Christina

  1. Can S.J.R. send me an e-mail regarding how to keep your identity hidden from the person that you are trying to collect a judgment from? There are websites that one can pay $25-$50 and get personal information such as residence from this service.

  2. Thank you so much for this information! I’m eager to start my own Judgment Recovery business and I just really need a ball park figure of the start-up costs.

    This is a great help! I do have a question. In the state of AR, would I have to obtain a general business license or will a DBA permit suffice? I’m slightly confused on that part…

    I can’t wait to purchase your training material in about two weeks! I’m soooooo excited!

    Thanks,

    Marquita

    • Hi Marquita,

      You will more than likely need to obtain a general business license from your local city offices, but you shouldn’t need any specialized licensing or a bond to operate a judgment recovery business in AR. Information about how to obtain your license is included in the full training program.

      Christina

  3. How do you access your training, what is the cost of it? Is this training done in person or online? Do you provide consultation after training, is so for how long?

    Shaun

    • Hi Shaun,

      There are currently two versions of the judgment recovery training program available. The traditional written version of the program is $185 + $9.95 shipping and handling. I also have a new electronic downloadable version of the program available for $155. I also have a special running through the month of December offering BOTH the electronic downloadable version AND the hard copy version for a total of $184.95 – which includes shipping and handing.

      Both versions of the program have the same content, and include letters, contracts and forms templates, the Bookmark Skiptracing Guide, my State By State Civil Research Guide, access to the Member’s Website and Discussion Forum, and ongoing support for as long as you need it. For more details about pricing, please visit the following page of my website: http://www.recoverycourse.com/pricing.html

      Thanks!

      Christina

  4. After you go through to get a judgement how many have nothing and you cannot collect from someone who has nothing. Out of 10 how many on average do you sucessfully collect. Getting a Judgement and not collecting on it is an expense most people cannot afford to loose the money.

    • Hi Daniel,

      On average, you will be able to enforce 50% – 60% of all the judgments that have been assigned to you. This is, quite simply, the nature of bad debt. You’ll want as many cases as possible – volume is key! Otherwise, you may find it discouraging if you only have one assignment to work on and it doesn’t produce any income for you. With that in mind, you’ll want to set your goal for AT LEAST ten assignments to work on. It will be easier than you think to get this many judgments (and more) assigned to you…

      Why won’t you collect on every judgment assigned? Sometimes you won’t be able to locate the debtor, other times you’ll find them but they won’t have any assets or the assets they have will be exempt (retirement, welfare, etc). Usually, when this happens, what I recommend that you do is notify the original judgment holder that you are unable to enforce the judgment at this time, but that you’ll monitor the case in another six months or so to see if anything has changed with the debtor’s financial status.

      In these circumstances, as a matter of routine, a judgment lien should be recorded and in place. These liens attach to any property the debtor owns or MAY ACQUIRE in the future, and this is a good long-term way to ensure you will get paid. At the original judgment holder’s request, you can assign the judgment back to them, though such requests are rare. I should also note that the assignment agreement, which outlines the terms and agreements made between your company and the original judgment holder, does NOT make any promise or guarantees about the enforcement of the judgment. It does, however, state that the judgment holder will receive a specified percentage, as an irregular payment, of anything that IS collected.

      I hope that helps!

      Christina

    • Hi Arnetha,

      The $155 fee for the downloadable version of our training program is a one-time only payment. There are never additional fees or investments to be made to my company other than the cost of your original judgment recovery program, and I do NOT want any percentage of your income. I am not like other companies you may have seen who sell you information, only to tell you later on that you’ll need to pay more money to get the rest of the information. Some of these companies are even charging thousands for support – or ‘coaching’ – and if you don’t pay it, you’re on your own. Fortunately that’s not the way I operate. Everything is already included in the judgment recovery program, as well as ongoing support for as long as you need it.

      As for judgment leads – these can all be obtained from civil case files at any courthouse. They are public record, and free to access.

      Christina

    • Hi Arnetha,

      It will generally take about 2 1/2 to 3 months to begin seeing any income. You should be able to go over the course materials and be ready to get started in one to two weeks. It will take longer for you to become entirely familiar with your own court’s particular idiosyncrasies, but that’s par for the course (no pun intended). This will happen as you perform specific procedures to enforce your judgments. You’ll need time to contact prospective clients, and obtain and file judgment assignments. Then you’ll need to locate the debtors and their assets (2-3 hours per case average) and then it typically takes 30 days for the court to carry out any procedure that you initiate to recover the money.

      Christina

  5. HELLO,
    WHO PAYS YOU, THE COURT OR THE DEPTOR?AND WOULD YOU ADVISE TO START WITH CASES THAT THE DEPTOR OWES ALOT OF MONEY, OR LESSER AMOUNT OWED?WHAT HAPPENS IF YOU STILL WON’T GET PAID?DID THAT EVER HAPPEN?LASTLY,I LIVE IN A SMALL CITY, IS IT MORE DIFFICULT WORKING THIS BUSINESS IN A LARGER CITY?..THX

    • Hi Kevin,

      I’m not sure why the date/time stamp isn’t accurate – I’ll check it out. Meanwhile, I’ve responded to your questions below:

      >>WHO PAYS YOU, THE COURT OR THE DEPTOR?

      Most payments you receive will result from asset seizures that are handled through the court. Payment from these seizures is typically made to you by the levying officer (usually the county sheriff) who is the one actually handling the seizure on your behalf. Of course, if you’ve set up a voluntary payment plan with the judgment debtor, payments will be coming directly to you from the debtor.

      >>AND WOULD YOU ADVISE TO START WITH CASES THAT THE DEPTOR OWES ALOT OF MONEY, OR LESSER AMOUNT OWED?

      The larger the judgments that you collect, the better your bottom line will be – but sometimes smaller judgments can be easier to collect (ie: a judgment debtor may be able to satisfy a $2,000 judgment much easier than a $20,000 judgment, etc.). We recommend taking cases for judgment awards that are at LEAST $500.

      >>WHAT HAPPENS IF YOU STILL WON’T GET PAID? DID THAT EVER HAPPEN?

      See reply to Daniel, on 12/6/2011.

      >>LASTLY, I LIVE IN A SMALL CITY, IS IT MORE DIFFICULT WORKING THIS BUSINESS IN A LARGER CITY?..

      Most courts are situated to encompass large areas when located in a rural area. It shouldn’t hinder your efforts by working in a sparsely populated area. That doesn’t sound so much different than the population in my town, South Lake Tahoe, where I successfully operated for the first 11 years of business before relocating to Georgia (I live in a small town here, as well). Eventually it made sense to branch out, into other nearby counties as the business grew – but it wasn’t necessary initially as there was more than enough business to keep me afloat.

      Regards,

      Christina

  6. HELLO,

    KEVIN AGAIN, NOTICE DATE I WRONG THAT I’M LEAVING THIS MESSAGE TO YOU,IT STATED DEC. 10TH TODAY IS DEC. 9TH, ALSO THE TIME IS WRONG, IT STATES 2:06AM IN THE MORNING, IT’S 8:12PM, IF ANY OF THIS MATTERS, BUT THAT CAUGHT MY EYE, ONCE I SENT THE PREVIOUS MESSAGE…K.M.

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  10. Question: If you do business online to other cities like you mention. How you going to get the sheriff to recover things for you? If you are not 100%, there is a money back guarantee?

    Thank you,

    Marlene

    • Hi Marlene,

      When I first relocated from California to Georgia, I brought my business with me. At that time I had over 200 active judgments I was working to enforce. I mailed all of my correspondence both to the courts AND the sheriff. If timing was a critical factor for anything I was doing, I would use a registered process server. It worked out fine.

      As for our money back guarantee – the hard-copy version of the judgment recovery training program is backed by a ninety day unconditional money back guarantee. If you are dissatisfied with the materials for any reason you can simply return the materials for a full refund of the purchase price, less shipping and handling. The electronic version of the judgment recovery training program is not offered with a money back guarantee. This is due to the nature of digital materials, which once received cannot be returned.

      Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any additional questions.

      Christina

  11. Hi Christina,

    Thank you for all the great information.

    I am wondering if my state, Minnesota, would require me to have a debt collector’s license and , also, does the program include that information
    for all of the states or only the one you live in? I live close to a state line
    and would like to collect in the neighboring state also.

    • Hi Verna,

      Though a very few states require debt collection licensing to operate a judgment recovery business, most states do not (including Minnesota). This is because when the judgment is assigned to you, it is transferring all right, title and interest from the original judgment holder to you. Once assigned to you, you are the new owner and legal judgment creditor. Most states – with a few exceptions – only require you to be licensed as a debt collector if you are collecting on someone else’s behalf, which is not the case because you’ll be collecting your own judgment.

      Also, the training program includes the SJR State By State Civil Research Guide, which provides you with the laws and statutory codes that govern the enforcement of judgments in each state, along with direct links to those laws and codes online.

      I hope that helps! Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any additional questions.

      Christina

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  17. i seen your advertisinig in opportunity business and thought it was great business to start from home p/t. I seen you answered lots of questions in regards to state and their licensing requirements. I live in Texas and they require lots of license to do business. Will Texas be a state were i have to assume license as a debt collector or any other license you know of a person in Texas will have to get before starting this type of business

  18. do you do follow up mentoring or assistance just in case a person come across something unusual. I have been researching Texas laws and as far as i can see their is no debt colletion license you have to carry. I did notice that in texas it is hard to lien/levy against a person wages unless you are the irs/school loans/federal government. Also, do you have any references or people that have complete your training and doing business in texas i can contact

    • I also live in Tx and have been wondering the same thing, if you by chance find out anything could you if you don’t mind share any information you find and ill be sure and do the same…Thanks!

      • Hi Erica,

        So far as the mentoring/assistance goes, we offer ongoing and unlimited customer support for as long as you need it at no additional cost.

        If you are wondering about judgment enforcement in your state, I have sometimes heard Texas referred to as a ‘debtor’s state’. Regardless of that we have many successful judgment recovery companies participating on our National Member Network in your state. In fact, one of the most successful judgment recovery specialists I know is located in Houston!

        Really the only limitation is that you aren’t permitted to garnish the wages of a debtor unless you‘re enforcing child or spousal support, the income is still fair game once it has been deposited into the judgment debtor’s bank account. For this reason, many people will use a series of good collection letters.

        You are still permitted to place a lien against the debtor that will show up on their credit report and attach to property, and you are also permitted to seize bank accounts and other numerous remedies to enforce a judgment. There are NO limitations regarding enforcing judgments that have been awarded against businesses. Further, you have some pretty extraordinary subpoena power in Texas! Subpoenas are fantastic tools to get information.

        Regards,

        Christina

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    • I want to say right up front that a judgment recovery business is definitely NOT a get rich quick scheme. Your income will directly reflect the amount of time and effort you devote to your new business.

      You should be able to earn some income in as little as 2 1/2 – 3 months, but it takes at least that much time to get the ball rolling. You’ll have to contact judgment holders, obtain signatures on assignments, locate the debtors and their assets and initiate the court procedures to enforce the judgments. The research per case typically requires 2-3 hours and it will take the court about 30 days to carry out any procedures you initiate and issue payment to you.

      $7,000 – $8,000 a month is an average full time income, while some who are more aggressive are earning in upwards of $10,000/month and more. These figures are taken from others who are operating their judgment recovery businesses successfully. Most people can earn at least $2,500 a month on a part time basis if they are willing to dedicate 10-15 hours a week to judgment recovery.

      To put it into perspective, if you were to send 100 solicitation letters to individual judgment holders, you’d likely end up with 30 to 35 judgments to collect. That’s a lot! Also keep in mind that out of those 30-35, you’ll probably only be able to actually collect 50%-60% of those judgments (this is just the nature of collections). This means you’d end up collecting 15-17 cases.

      Just to give an idea about what sort of income that generates, figure on the average case being right around $1500. Further, you’d be collecting those on a 50% contingency, keeping half of what you collect. That works out to be around $12,000 in gross income that you keep for yourself (ie: 15 X $1,500 = $22,500; 50% is $11,250.00).

      Regards,

      Christina

  25. I kick myself for not having started recovery biusiness when I first heard from you back in 2000. Then I was only 72 and now of couse 84 but in good health and thinking about starting it now. Do you think my age is a problem? Thanks for keeping me on your newsletter.

    • Hi Harry,

      Believe it or not, one of my early mentors in this business is in his late 80′s – and he’s still going like gangbusters! I really think it’s more a matter of what you feel like you can reasonably take on for yourself.

      Please let me know if you have any more questions.

      Christina

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