Skip Tracing: A Three Part Series

This is the first of a three-part series. Think of it as a basic Skip Tracing Primer. If you’re unfamiliar with the term ‘skip trace,’ a ‘skip’ refers to someone who has ‘skipped’ town, or has either intentionally (or unintentionally) fallen off the grid. A ‘skip trace’ is simply language we use in our industry to describe the process of tracing a person’s past to locate their current whereabouts.

Why is skip tracing such an important component to a judgment recovery business, you may ask? Because for the most part, by the time we take on these judgments to collect, the debtor has moved at least two or three times, and may also have taken steps to hide any assets that could be seized to collect the judgment.

The first part of this series is written to provide you with a clear description of what skip tracing is all about. Second in this series I’ll discuss how to build a profile of a skip tracing subject, which is a critical first step in the process. In the third installment I’ll go over some skip tracing basics.

Some people ask me if I’m anything like Dog the Bounty Hunter – which would be a laughable suggestion to those who know me personally. I’m 5’ 3” tall, petite, going a little gray around the edges – and the only weapon I’m packing is my keyboard and Internet access. Try to put those Hollywood fairy tales out of your head… It makes for good television, but it’s really nothing like real life.

People have ‘gone missing’ pretty much since the dawn of time. These days there are such large numbers of people searching for other people that entire industries have been founded on these skill sets. Some of these industries may surprise you. The obvious ones that come to mind are private investigators, law enforcement agencies and debt collectors. Also included in that list should be:

  • Missing children organizations
  • Genealogists
  • Unclaimed funds locators
  • Registered process servers
  • Insurance fraud investigators
  • Auto repossession companies
  • Bail bondsmen
  • School alumni reunion organizations
  • Employment / Tenant verification companies
  • And probably a few others that I haven’t though to include in this article

There are generally three main types of missing persons. The first are those who aren’t really missing at all. They’re just living their lives as normal and not really hiding from you. Everyone else knows where they are, just not you. These would include old roommates or school buddies, ex-lovers and other old acquaintances and relatives you’ve lost touch with.

The second type may not actually be missing either, but they might be making a concentrated effort to avoid you. Lump all of the first type into this description and then also add debtors, deadbeat parents who don’t want to pay child support, ex-spouses trying to get out of paying alimony or others avoiding financial or family obligations. In
the judgment recovery industry, this is the type of missing person we are mostly dealing with.

The remaining type of missing persons is comprised of runaways and abductees, or other people who are going to extreme lengths not to be found. This type also includes people living under the radar due to criminal activity. These would be categorized as hard-core ‘skips’ who will use all manner of creative methods to disguise their true identity and location.

Some of the reasons that people go missing:

  • They owe large amounts of money.
  • They are avoiding criminal prosecution.
  • They are avoiding family or relationship responsibilities and obligations.
  • They may be committing life insurance fraud.
  • They are avoiding litigation.
  • They are hiding from a stalker.
  • They have run away from home.
  • They are mentally ill.
  • They are incarcerated.
  • They are deceased.

There are entire libraries full of books outlining skip tracing methods. Some of those methods are downright illegal, or in a ‘gray area’ at best. I do not condone using any illegal or unethical techniques to perform a skip trace, so I will not be discussing any of those methods in this series.

Skip tracing can be described as a blend of both art and logic. The ‘art’ is more intuition-based – like trying to put yourself in your subject’s shoes and thinking as they might think… imagining what you would do in their situation. The ‘logic’ is what comes from following a specific series of steps in a set routine. A + B = C. The combination of the
two is usually the key to finding your subject.

What does it take to be a good skip tracer? Think of it like this: if you enjoy a good mystery novel then you’ll probably excel as a skip tracer. If you’re more the romance novel-type then this probably won’t be your cup of tea.

Every scrap of information or fact that you can learn about someone who you’re looking for leads you just a little closer to locating your subject. Being organized and methodical is critical when you are gathering your details and data. The best way to accomplish that is to start with by building a profile of the subject you are seeking.

This will be the topic of the next installment of this three part series. Meanwhile, I welcome your comments or questions. You can post them to this blog, or you can contact me directly using the ‘Contact’ link above.

Warm Regards,


Christina Smiley
Sierra Judgment Recovery

What is Judgment Recovery? An Explanation in Plain English

For many of us who are in the judgment recovery industry, we often forget that the rest of the world may not really have a clue about what “Judgment Recovery” is. As with many industries, we are so used to throwing around terminology like “skip tracing” and “asset location” that we just assume everyone else understands.

Here’s a simple example of the whole process, in plain English…

The Dispute

We’ll start from the very beginning. Imagine, if you will, that you’ve rented a home for several years. Situations change, and you’ve decided it’s time to move. You kept the property in great shape, always paid rent on time, and certainly didn’t trash the place, so you’re looking forward to getting your deposit back.

After the move, your landlord decides to be greedy and won’t return your deposit. What?! Your demand for an explanation goes unanswered, so your only real option is to file a lawsuit in small claims court.

The Court Date

You’ve filed your papers with the court to request a hearing and served the landlord with notice of the hearing date. The court date arrives and both you and the landlord argue your case in front of the judge, who decides that you are right and the landlord must return your deposit. A judgment is awarded for the amount of the deposit, plus any court fees you had to pay.

A week goes by… and you haven’t received any payment. But the landlord (now he’s called the judgment debtor) technically has thirty days to cough it up, so you’re trying to be patient. Now three months have passed – and still no check. At this point you call the court to tell them that the judgment debtor has still not paid, and you want to know what they’re going to do about it. Shockingly, the answer is nothing. Guess what? It’s up to you to make the judgment debtor pay. The court will not enforce the judgment for you. You’re on your own…

The Judgment Recovery Specialist

Time flies when you’re living your life, so three years have flown by and you’ve given up hope long ago that you’ll ever see a dime from that crooked landlord. Then one day you receive a letter from Statewide Judgment Recovery. Of course, this letter sparks your curiosity, so you open it.

It isn’t exactly what you were expecting, but perhaps the next best thing. This company is telling you they’ve seen your judgment at the courthouse and noticed it hasn’t been paid. They want to know if you’d be interested in letting them enforce the judgment. Since the company is willing to pay for all of the fees associated with collecting the judgment up front, no money will come out of your pocket.

Figuring that you have nothing to lose, you call the company and take a few minutes to discuss your case with a friendly and helpful person on the phone.

Let’s give this faceless judgment recovery person an identity. Let’s call him Jim. Jim is a highly trained, specialized kind of dynamo. He’s equipped with every skill he needs and all the latest tricks of the trade to make sure you get your money.

Jim tells you that he will do everything necessary to enforce the judgment in exchange for 50% of whatever is collected. It really just turns out to be a simple matter of signing a couple of agreements.

After Jim receives your signed agreements, he files them with the court and is ready to dig his heels in and get started.

The Pursuit Begins!

This is a no-brainer for Jim – this case is a slam dunk for a go-getter like him. Since the landlord owns rental property, and you’d passed along copies of past cancelled checks written for the rent, it’s a simple matter to collect this judgment.

When a judgment is assigned to someone like Jim, he becomes, in the eyes of the law, the judgment creditor and new owner of the judgment. He has exactly the same right of enforcement that you had to use the powerful legal remedies provided by law to force the judgment debtor to pay the debt. Actually, the landlord now owes the judgment to Jim.

Jim files a form with the court and sends the sheriff over to the landlord’s bank to seize the money in the account. A bank account seizure freezes all of the money in the account from the moment it is delivered to the bank.

The money in the bank account was not quite enough to cover the entire judgment amount, so to collect the remaining balance, Jim again sends the sheriff – but this time to intercept any incoming rent from the current tenant residing at the rental property.

When Jim receives a check for the money collected by the sheriff for the rent and from the bank account, he adds the filing fees that he incurred to the judgment. The crooked landlord will ultimately pay for them. Then he keeps half for himself and mails a check for the remainder to you.

The ending to this story is a happy one. You receive a substantial chunk of the money that was owed to you and Jim gets a hefty well-deserved sum as well. The icing on the cake… Jim discovers that the landlord has several other judgments awarded against him, and decides to contact those judgment holders to help them get their money, too.


If there are any other topics you’d like to see discussed on this blog, please feel free to leave a comment and I’ll do my best to cover them for you!

Warm Regards,



5 Myths About Judgment Recovery

I spend a good bit of every day answering questions about the judgment recovery business. Truth be told, the majority of those who take the time to write to me are pretty skeptical – and who can blame them? Aren’t there a million other ‘opportunities’ – many of them scams – flooding the Internet these days? How can you know who to trust, especially when it costs next to nothing for the ‘expert’ to market their product?

I honestly don’t mind answering those questions – I would much rather hear from someone if they have doubts, so at least I have a chance to personally address them.

Following are some of the concerns I find myself responding to most often.

Myth #1: Starting a judgment recovery business will cost a ton of money.

Fact: Costs to start and operate a judgment recovery business are surprisingly low. Chances are, you already have all the essential equipment you need to get going (computer and printer). Other very basic expenses will include a phone line dedicated for business use, a generic business license, a post office box and a locking file cabinet or desk drawer.

As for ongoing business operation costs, you’ll need information to help you find the debtor’s job, bank account and other assets (credit reports, banking detail information, etc. at $11-$12 per case), and court filing fees – approximately $35-$50 to seize any assets you find through the court system.

By comparison, consider that the average franchise requires thousands of dollars in investment capital. For example, a Subway restaurant will cost $12,500 cash just for the name, plus 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 or lease equipment and inventory, and purchase advertising just for starters. Talk
about sticker shock!

Myth #2: I will have to harass the debtor to make him or her pay.

Fact: The assumption that you’ll need to become some sort of a finger-breaking thug to collect judgments is a little silly. Actually, you’ll have very little – if any – direct contact with the person who owes the debt at all. You’ll be using strictly non-confrontational, behind-the-scenes methods to collect these judgments. There’s simply no need to make harassing phone calls or send scary letters. Everything you do to enforce the judgment can and will be carried out through the court system by filing paperwork.

Myth #3: I’ll have to be some sort of legal genius to make this work.

Fact: No legal background is required in order for you to be profitable in a judgment recovery business. In fact, no background of any kind is necessary. Most of our current members didn’t have any sort of legal or collections experience when they began, either. I certainly kept this in mind when the course materials were written. I’ve trained truck drivers, soccer moms, retirees – you name it!

Don’t get me wrong – you’ll still need to do some research into procedures in your state, but the concepts and general rules are all pretty consistent throughout the US. These procedures are covered in step-by-step detail in the training materials. I’ll also provide you with the SJR State-By-State Civil Research Guide that includes specific information about the laws and codes that govern the enforcement of judgments in each state.

Myth #4: There is new “legislation” which makes collecting judgments very difficult.

Fact: Ah… the Internet rumor mill. If it’s written there, it must be true, right? Sorry, but it’s just wrong.

There hasn’t been any recent legislation passed or pending in any state that I am aware of that would affect your ability to successfully operate a judgment recovery business, or any new laws that would make enforcing judgments more difficult.

In fact, the opposite is true. In a few states, there is actually pending legislation that will make it easier to collect civil judgments. Most particularly, in some states where wage garnishments have never been permitted, there is pending legislation that will now make it possible.

Myth #5: Only attorneys can collect a judgment that was awarded to someone else.

Fact: Here is one, simple truth: Anyone who owns a judgment – or owns the rights to a judgment – can use the court system to collect. There is no court in the land that legally requires a judgment creditor to retain or use an attorney to collect a civil judgment.

Further, when all rights to a civil judgment are properly and legally assigned to another person, that person becomes the judgment creditor and owner of the judgment. This is all governed by civil statute in all 50 states.

I hope this helps to ease your mind about these important concerns. I know that if some people are asking about these issues, many more must also be wondering about the same thing. As always, I encourage you to contact me if you have questions of your own. Or if you would like to see any specific topics covered in more detail.

Warm Regards,


Christina Smiley
Sierra Judgment Recovery
SJR Strategic Research

Please note: I am not an attorney, nor do I aspire to be one. If you need legal advice, please consult qualified legal counsel.

Is Judgment Recovery Legal? Yes! And here’s why…

I am often asked if judgment recovery is truly a legal business. I guess some folks just worry that if you’re not an attorney, using the courts to enforce a judgment that was awarded to someone else is somehow breaking the law. It’s also a common misperception that collecting any money judgment (even your own) through the court system without hiring an attorney can somehow land you in legal hot water.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

There is no court in the land that will not allow you to use the court system to collect your civil money judgment on your own behalf. Certainly, if you attempt to collect a judgment for someone else, and you are not an attorney, you are going to get yourself into trouble. So let me stress the most important term, and key point of this article: On Your Own Behalf

A civil money judgment is an asset which can be bought, sold, transferred, etc. If you want to get downright technical, a civil judgment is referred to as ‘a thing in action.’ When a judgment is assigned, the ownership of the judgment is transferred from the original judgment holder to the assignee (that would be you, in this case). From that point on, you own the judgment and anything you do to enforce the judgment is done on your own behalf. You will be legally recognized by the court as the judgment creditor, and you will have all the same rights and remedies at your disposal to enforce the judgment through the court as did the original judgment holder.

Once the judgment is yours, you are entitled to locate the whereabouts and assets of your judgment debtor using many investigative resources that are typically only available to private investigators, professional collectors and law enforcement agencies. You are not considered to be a private investigator because – again – you’re conducting an investigation on your own behalf.

As a judgment creditor, you will also have the authority to use special court procedures to find assets. Post-judgment debtor examinations are court-ordered proceedings in which the judgment debtor must appear in court and directly answer your questions about finances, income, assets and more. This can also be conducted with written interrogatories through the mail. You will also have the power of subpoenas. A subpoena is another type of court order that demands specific documents to be provided to you for your inspection. Post-judgment debtor examinations and subpoenas can be used with judgment debtors, as well as other third parties who may have information about your debtor’s employer, business(es), bank accounts, property or other assets.

Once you’ve identified what and where the assets are, you can then direct the court to seize those assets on your behalf as a judgment creditor. Generally assets are seized through what we call a levy. A levying officer will act on your specific instructions to seize the asset as directed. Anything collected through the levying process will be turned over to you – since you’re the owner of the judgment and the judgment creditor.

It really is that simple.

Let me finish by assuring you that enforcing a judgment through the court system on your own behalf never has – and never will – be illegal or require attorney

I realize that a lot of the above is a little ‘technical’ – so please – let me know if you have any questions or comments. Of course, if you would like to read articles about other specific topics, just ask!

Warm Regards,

Christina Smiley

Licensing Requirements for a Judgment Recovery Business

All businesses require a license of some kind before you can hang out your shingle and open shop. Your city or county will always want a little piece of the pie for taxation purposes. After all, who do you think pays for your road maintenance and your children’s education? You do. You know what they say… Nothing is certain but death and taxes!

Aside from taxation purposes, your city’s planning and zoning department will want to ensure that if you are planning to operate your business from home that there won’t be a snarl of customers coming and going at all hours, or neon signs flashing from all of your windows.

The typical license required for a judgment recovery business is a generic business license from your local city hall or county offices. It’s unlikely that there will be a specific category designated for ‘Judgment Recovery,’ so in most cases you’ll be lumped into an ‘Other-Unspecified’ or ‘Miscellaneous’ category.

At first glance, you’d tend to think a judgment recovery business should fall under the ‘Collection Agency’ license category, but in most states it will not – because you are assuming ownership of these judgments and collecting them on your own behalf. If you ever have a couple of hours to kill and want to verify that for yourself, you’ll find that the most common legal definition of a ‘Collection Agency’ reads something like this:

“”Collection Agency” means any person engaging in business for the purpose of collecting or attempting to collect, directly or indirectly, debts owed or due or asserted to be owed or due another.”


Why is that important? Because the judgment will no longer be owed or due to another – it will legally belong to you, and you will be enforcing it on your own behalf. The same is true in regard to a private investigator’s license… It’s not required – in any state – because you’re performing asset locations to enforce your own judgment, and not on anyone else’s behalf, or in exchange for any sort of fee.

By the way, the definition quoted above is taken directly from New Mexico’s legal code, and the language is usually the same – or a variation of that – in just about every state that requires debt collectors to be regulated.

A civil money judgment is an asset. Just like any other property or asset it can be bought, sold, transferred, etc. When a judgment is assigned to you, all right, title and interest in the judgment is transferred to you and your company. The same right, title and interest is revoked, without recourse, from the original judgment holder.

This means that once the judgment is assigned, you now legally own the judgment. This is referred to as ‘purchasing’ the judgment and you’ll also prepare a purchase contract for the judgment holder to sign. The nature of the purchase contract does not require you to pay any money up front for the judgment – you’ll simply make ‘installment payments’ to the original judgment holder when and if money is collected.

There are a few states that do require collection agency licensing. In these states, the regulatory agencies’ view is that if the debt didn’t originate with you, and you’re going to collect it, you must be regulated. To the very best of my knowledge, the states that require you to obtain a collection agency license are Colorado, Nevada, Tennessee, Utah and Washington. In these states this may seem like a downside, however, keep in mind that it means you’ll have little or no competition, and that there’s probably a great need for judgment recovery where you are!

If there are any other topics you’d like to see discussed here, or if you have other questions, just shoot me an email with the topic you’re interested in to: Contact Me.

Warm Regards,


Have you seen the elephant?

A while back I came across a terrific saying that made me think about my judgment recovery business efforts over the years in a new light.

In the mid 19th century, during the California Gold Rush, the people who left their homes and way of life for the golden hills of California had a phrase for what they were about to experience: they called it “seeing the elephant.”

49ers and those planning to travel west, announced they were “going to see the elephant.” Those turning back claimed they had seen the “elephant’s tracks” or the “elephant’s tail,” and admitted they’d seen more than enough of the animal.

It’s said that this phrase originates with an old story told when elephants were still a
relatively uncommon sight in Northern America.

An old farmer, who had always aspired to see an elephant, heard a circus was coming to town and that there would most likely be elephants. He donned his best suit of clothes, loaded his farm wagon and set out on the day and a half journey to town.

On the way, he met the circus parade, which was led by an elephant. The old farmer was thrilled to finally have an opportunity to see an elephant, however, his horses were absolutely terrified.

They bolted at the strange sight – tipping over the wagon – as they ran in terror back to the farm. Not only was the old farmer stranded, but his produce and clothes were ruined beyond repair. “I don’t give a hang,” the farmer said, “for I have seen the elephant!”

In the Gold Rush days, California became symbolic for fresh starts and seeking fortunes. For these folks, the elephant symbolized both the high cost of their endeavor – the endless possibilities for fortune or misfortune either on the journey, or in California.

In retrospect, “seeing the elephant” reminds me of my early days in judgment recovery. In those days there really wasn’t a lot of information to be had about my newly chosen
profession. No one had even heard of the concept and there were very few reference materials available. I certainly felt like a pioneer.

In the beginning it seemed like I was flying by the seat of my pants more often than not, mixed in with a healthy dose of trial and error. It worked, but it took a lot of blood, sweat and tears to get there.

There is no question that I’ve “Seen the Elephant” on the way… I nearly saw the elephant’s tail a couple of times along the way – but I made it – and what a ride!

Many of us in business today are searching for the preferred lifestyle that comes with “seeing the elephant.” But it’s never an easy task, is it? There will definitely be some hurdles. But if there weren’t any obstacles there wouldn’t be any growth. And not everyone will make it, but those who are persistent will succeed.

Here are four important principles for claiming your dream of the lifestyle your new business can bring:

The first is to LEARN – Learn everything you possibly can about enforcing judgments – not only the concepts of marketing and the “basics” – but also the laws and statutes that govern your craft.

It’s funny that folks seem to have different expectations of the world of business than in the “real” world. In the “real” world laying out $100 bucks and getting rich is called winning the lottery. True success in any business is not a “get-rich-quick” proposition. There’s just no substitute for preparation!

The second is ACTION – It takes action and real initiative to begin a judgment recovery
business. But it takes a tremendous amount of continuing action to follow through.

Many people will purchase business programs hoping to “see the elephant.” Then they quite literally never look at those materials that could change their lives! Still others will start and give up in 30 to 60 days, when they reach their first hurdle.

Rather than giving up at your first hurdle, or even your 100th, I ask you to consider this
challenge: establish some realistic goals and then take whatever action is going to be required to reach those goals.

This is necessary for both new business owners and those who’ve been around for years. Even if you don’t get EXACTLY what you want, you’ll at the very least get closer to it.

I’ll tell you a true story… Back when I had more time on my hands than business to deal with, I set some goals. Some were realistic, but others were a little over the top. One of the goals I set was to get the home I really wanted. There was this huge house, just being built, in one of the better neighborhoods in town.

It was beautiful. 5,000 square feet, a kitchen I could happily die in, beautiful views of the
mountains… It was only $750,000 (!!!)… but that’s where I wanted to hang my hat. I got a realtor’s print out of the house and stuck it on my office wall – where I could drool over it every day and imagine myself living there.

Time passed, and as it happened I outgrew the house I was living in. I bought a truly wonderful house, and it met all of my needs, though it wasn’t my dream house on the wall. One day, while I was enjoying my deck and looking out over the meadow and creek that ran through the backyard, I happened to look up the hill – and lo and behold – I could just see my ‘dream house’ through the trees.

I didn’t get exactly what I wanted, but I got what I needed – and so can you.

I want you to examine your long-term goal. Do you have one? What is your short-term goal? So how much money do you plan to make over the next 3 months? After really thinking about it, write down a realistic number and put it someplace where you’ll see it every day.

Do you hope to replace your existing income? When? In twelve months? Eighteen months? Are you trying to break out of a rut you’ve found yourself in? When will you see the elephant?

Write it down and stick it on your refrigerator. Set ANY goal for yourself and refresh that goal in your mind at least once a day. Then, give SOME time EACH day toward making your goal a reality.

The third principle is FOCUS  – This is going to be one of the most important factors of your success. FOCUS on one step at a time. It’s just as impossible to walk from here to Hong Kong in a day as it is to accomplish everything all at once. Trying to do too much too soon is a recipe for frustration and ultimately disaster.

Work on one or two aspects of your business at a time. Pick one or two topics or methods and work at them until you KNOW them. Put 50% of each month’s earnings back into your business. Your business will grow!

Finally, you need to EXPAND – Expand yourself by exposure to good ideas that will enable you to grow. Without forgetting how important it is to stay focused, don’t be afraid to spend money on quality resources and tools for your business.

Subscribe to business and marketing newsletters. Buy publications that are specific to your industry. Continue your education. The knowledge you’d gain and implement is worth any number of times the original cost and will pay for itself many times over.

Pioneers of the Old West set out knowing only that they were going west to seek a new way of life, and hopefully realize their fortunes. At some point, they must have reached a place where they could see high and seemingly impassable mountains in the distance.

Those mountains became the new focal point. The daily grind and the harsh reality of living from the back of a wagon was carried out with those mountains slowly coming in to view. The goal would be realized, no matter what. They would “see the elephant.” Failure was simply not an option! This is the attitude it’s going to take to make it in a business.

So. What it comes down to is this: Where do you want your business to take you? It’s not going to happen all by itself…

Are you going to “see the elephant” or just the elephant’s tail?

Warm Regards,


Marketing a Judgment Recovery Business

Ask anyone who’s ever been involved with a business before, and they’ll tell you that marketing is the life’s blood of a successful business. It’s no less important with a judgment recovery business.

Initially, most of your new potential customers will be obtained by researching civil case files. Civil case files are public record and available from any courthouse. These files will show you who has been awarded a judgment, how much it was, and will also provide you the contact information you’ll need to reach the judgment owner. Many areas even offer free online access to these files (more on that later).

Once you’ve identified which judgment holders will benefit from your service you’ll send them a personalized letter that includes specific information about their judgment. This is a highly targeted way to market, and definitely not a ‘shotgun’ approach. My research shows that contacting a judgment holder directly by far generates the best response and marketing results.

You should typically plan on spending about 2-3 hours, once a week to conduct this type of research at the courthouse. This will also familiarze you with the contents of a case file, as well as what your state’s legal forms look like and what their functions are.

If you are fortunate enough to have access to civil case file information online, then time spent physically at the courthouse to research your judgment leads may be unnecessary, or at least limited. Some states offer online access statewide, while others only offer access in certain counties or cities.

Each state and/or county generally has a different set up for accessing these files. The quality of the information that you are able to obtain online will vary from site to site. Some sites only provide minimal information, while others go so far as to scan every document ever filed into the system for viewing. Most offer free access, while a handful may charge a nominal fee.

If you’re finding basic information about the cases online, but not getting enough information to send a letter (ie: no contact information), you’ll want to use the online database to at least narrow down your prospects. It will still save you time to go through the cases online and make a list of cases for the court clerk to pull for your review at the courthouse.

If there is no online access available in your immediate area, and weekly visits to the courthouse prove to be impossible, there is certainly no reason you couldn’t research judgments awarded in another area. SJR’s judgment recovery training program includes an Online Access Guide that will provide you with links to all of the courts that provide access to civil case file information online in each state.

You’ll find that most courts will accept mailed or FAX’ed filings. Additionally, if you needed to, you could get in touch with another judgment recovery company participating on the SJR National Member Network or the SJR Member Email Forum in that area if you needed help or assistance with something.

Marketing directly to businesses is another good way to go, and a fantastic way to cater to a specific ‘niche.’ These days, for me personally, nearly all of my current judgments are assigned from either businesses I’ve developed a relationship with, or referrals from attorneys and paralegals in my area.

Some of these businesses include property managers, used car lots, contractors, pawn shops, jewelers, furniture stores, check cashing or payday advance companies, etc. Use your imagination! These – and other – types of businesses tend to sue in court on a regular basis and have many judgments to assign. Since they are constantly taking debtors to court, the judgments keep flowing in.

Joining your local Chamber of Commerce and other community organizations will put you in direct contact with a surprising number of individuals and companies needing your services. By participating in these local meetings and functions, you’ll also go a long way toward establishing your credibility. Speaking of local exposure, most smaller local newspapers will often showcase new businesses or publish a press release about your judgment recovery business – especially since it’s not your typical run of the mill business.

I haven’t brought up traditional advertising, simply because most who are just getting started are looking to cut costs as much as possible. Advertisements can be effective, but if you plan to advertise I wouldn’t solely rely on it to bring you new customers. If you do decide to run a simple ad, it should be in an area of general readership because most judgment holders don’t even realize they have any options for collecting their judgment – so they’re not actively looking for you.

This, of course, is simply a general overview of the marketing methods we use to attract new customers. Marketing will be crucial your business… and having a variety of different ways to make your services known will keep your bottom line healthy and help your business to grow.

As always, I welcome your questions, comments, or suggestions for any topics you’d like to see discussed here.

Warm Regards,


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 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.

Judgment Recovery – Article

Looking for a business opportunity that will thrive regardless of what the economy is doing?

Learn how you can earn a steady, predictable income of $5,000 to $8,000 a month with a home based Judgment Recovery business.

If you’re interested in making a career change for the long-term, you need a business opportunity that’s truly economy-proof.  You know, one that does well when the economy doesn’t and that will position you to thrive when things start to improve…and they will!  There are a few good options out there.  This is one that not too many people know about just yet…all the more reason why you should!

Here’s what you need to know about becoming a Judgment Recovery Specialist…

Thousands of civil cases are heard by judges in your local courthouse each year.  It’s the same old story…someone sues someone else for damages or not holding up their end of a bargain or contract.  A civil judgment is awarded. What you may not know is that 79% of those awarded debts go uncollected!  That’s right, 79%!  It’s staggering.

Even more incredible is the fact that the full responsibility for collecting the judgment resides with the person who won the case, also known as the judgment holder.  What!?  That’s right, when someone takes someone else to court and WINS, that judgment holder must now collect his/her own judgment from the debtor.  Now you can only imagine how that goes when the debtor was unable or unwilling to pony up the goods in the first place.  After all, if the transaction was going to be easy, the judgment holder wouldn’t have had to take things to court at all, right?  No wonder the percentage of uncollected debts awarded in civil courts is so high!

Long story short, once the judgment is final and monetary compensation is awarded, the court itself does NOTHING to enforce the judgment.  The judgment holder is alone!

The Role of the Judgment Recovery Specialist

Well, not entirely alone…not anymore anyway.  Beginning in the late 90s, a new industry began to emerge that focused on assisting judgment holders in collecting the judgments that were owed them.  Today, the role of the Judgment Recovery Specialist (JRS) has evolved into a well-respected and growing profession, one that is gradually gaining recognition in courthouses nationwide.

Civil case files are a matter of public record.  Your local courthouse is full of them.  More importantly, it’s full of cases where the judgment has never been paid. A well-trained JRS accesses those files, decides which cases he/she would like to handle and then contacts the judgment holder to offer his/her services in collecting the debt.  By virtue of civil statute in all 50 states, the judgment holder is then able to legally and simply turn over the ownership of the judgment to the JRS.  By law, once the JRS becomes the owner of the judgment, he/she acquires the full right to enforce the judgment, and also to access information that not just anyone would know about, such as consumer credit history and other critical financial information.  The transfer of ownership allows the JRS to utilize his/her specialized training and knowledge to not only locate the debtor, but to identify his/her assets and seize those assets using the court system to ensure the debt is paid.

Payment from the judgment debtor is no longer a voluntary option. When the debtor doesn’t pay, the court provides legal remedies to the JRS to force them to pay. It’s up to the JRS to initiate these procedures through the court. These remedies can include wage garnishments, bank account seizures, interception of under the table or rental income, business income or assets, seizure and sale of personal real property – you name it! If it isn’t exempt, it’s fair game.

In return, the JRS negotiates with the judgment holder to keep as much as half of the collected amount as payment for purchase of the judgment.  Half of something for the judgment holder is almost always better than 100% of nothing!  Most judgment holders especially don’t mind parting with some of the money to the JRS when they realize that their uncollected debt has also been earning interest for a number of years, so half is more than they thought.  Perhaps most importantly, the JRS collects every penny without any out of pocket expense to the judgment holder. It’s not so much that the work of collecting unpaid judgments is hard.  It’s just that it requires the research, resources and training to do it well.  That’s where a person like Christina Smiley comes in.

Sierra Judgment Recovery

Smiley is the Founder/Owner of Sierra Judgment Recovery.  She’s been a JRS since the early 90s and has dedicated herself to training others and sharing her well-earned expertise and knowledge with them since 1997.  Smiley is on a mission to recruit serious-minded professionals who don’t mind hard work, have integrity and would like to consider judgment recovery as a career.  She’ll do whatever it takes to train and support the right candidates, those who share her passion in ensuring the rule of law is upheld for those who can’t help themselves.

“People interested in this line of work will tell me they might feel bad collecting money from people who may not be in a financial position to pay,” she says.  “But you have to keep in mind who the real victim is here.  If someone goes through the hassle and expense of taking a case to court, then wins and never gets anything out of it, that’s just not right.”  She’ll concede that in some instances, sympathy is warranted.  “But when I collect for a little old lady whose crook of a contractor took her money and then didn’t finish her roof as promised…well then I know I’m providing something valuable,” Smiley goes on.  “That makes me feel really good.”  She adds that it is always the prerogative of the JRS to accept a case or not.  In other words, once a JRS contacts the judgment holder and gets the full story, it becomes very clear as to how and even if he/she would like to proceed.

Another concern often expressed by people who might be interested in becoming a JRS is whether or not settling judgments is a dangerous job.  Smiley is quick to say, “Not at all!”  In all of her years in judgment recovery, Smiley and her colleagues have never felt threatened by a judgment debtor.  In fact, a JRS has little to no direct contact with any debtor, as everything is handled through filing documents with the courts. In the few instances where she has actually contacted the debtor, she has viewed it as an opportunity to work out a mutually agreeable payment plan.  “Many debtors have long since recovered financially from when the judgment was awarded, but no one has pursued them up to that point, so they don’t pay up until they have to,” she says.  “Most of them are quite reasonable when they consider the effect not paying is having on their credit.  Most people don’t want a debt hanging over their head, so we offer them a way to see light at the end of the tunnel,” she says.

Judgment Recovery and the Economy

Judgment recovery is one of the very few fields in which people can be their own boss and where their success is not subject to fluctuations in the economy, be they good or bad.  In a struggling economy, judgment debtors who have a decent job are not going to give it up just so they can avoid a wage garnishment, especially if they can pay reasonably over time.  And as for judgment holders, when the economy is on the fritz, they start coming out of the woodwork, which is great for the JRS.  Of course, when times are good, well…they just are.

As for the JRS field itself, Smiley has noticed an upturn in the number of people interested in her incredibly affordable training program materials, which are widely recognized as some of the most respected and current in the industry.  “I’ve had people I trained ten years ago get back in touch with me for my support in getting their own judgment recovery business up and running now that they can,” she says.  “My offer of support still stands after all this time…at no charge.”

Asked about her tremendous dedication to training others, she explains, “I want to educate people in my field because it’s my passion.  Even more importantly, I don’t want anybody out there doing the wrong thing that may reflect on our industry in a negative way.”  Given that the JRS field is still evolving and growing so quickly, Smiley is doing her part to ensure that no JRS is violating current legislation in carrying out his/her mission.  “There are legislative acts that regulate our industry and are designed to ensure that consumers are protected in all of this.  Those laws are fair,” she says, “and they must be adhered to…for all our sakes.”

The way Smiley sees it, “The job market is uncertain right now; but bad debt is never going away.”  Given the current state of affairs, there’s a tremendous opportunity for any trained JRS to enforce unpaid debts on behalf of those who can’t or don’t know how to help themselves and to earn a good income while doing it.  Smiley sums it up quite nicely…“Taking charge of your own financial destiny is important, especially when times are tough…and being a JRS is a great opportunity to do just that.”

For more information about a judgment recovery business, and to sign up for a free judgment recovery start up guide, visit Sierra Judgment Recovery at: