top of page

Let's Talk



Our privacy promise: We will not sell / use your contact information outside our agency.

Judgment Recovery and Bank Levies: How Spade & Archer Private Investigators Can Help You Collect Judgments in the San Francisco Bay Area

court room with judge
If you've had a monetary award by the Court, contact our experts to help you collect on your judgement.

Understanding Judgment Recovery

Judgment recovery refers to the process of collecting a monetary judgment awarded by the court. When a court rules in favor of one party, it issues a judgment specifying the amount of money owed by the losing party, known as the judgment debtor. Unfortunately, securing a judgment is only half the battle; collecting the money is often more challenging.

What Are Bank Levies?

A bank levy is a legal action that allows creditors to seize funds directly from the debtor’s bank account to satisfy a judgment. This process involves obtaining a writ of execution from the court, which permits the creditor to instruct the bank to withdraw the funds from the debtor’s account.

The Challenges of Judgment Recovery

While the court ruling provides a legal right to collect the owed amount, many judgment debtors are reluctant to pay. They may hide assets, transfer funds to avoid garnishment, or simply ignore the judgment. This is where professional assistance becomes crucial.

Judgment Collections in California

Legal Framework

In California, judgment enforcement is governed by a comprehensive set of laws designed to protect both creditors and debtors. The primary statutes are found in the California Code of Civil Procedure, which outlines the steps for judgment collection, including writs of execution, levies, garnishments, and debtor examinations.

Statute of Limitations

The statute of limitations for enforcing a judgment in California is ten years from the date of entry. However, creditors can renew the judgment before it expires, extending it for another ten years. This means that a creditor has multiple opportunities to collect the judgment over an extended period.

Enforcement Methods

Several methods can be used to enforce a judgment in California, including:

  • Bank Levies: Seizing funds from the debtor's bank account.

  • Wage Garnishments: Deducting a portion of the debtor's wages directly from their employer.

  • Property Liens: Placing a lien on the debtor's real property, which must be satisfied when the property is sold.

  • Till Taps and Keeper Levies: Seizing cash from the debtor's business.

California Law on Judgments

California law provides robust tools for judgment enforcement, but it also includes protections for debtors. For instance, certain assets are exempt from collection, such as social security benefits, unemployment insurance, and a portion of wages. Understanding these exemptions is crucial for creditors to avoid legal complications.

Judgement collection graphic
This is a representation of the process made by AI so the spelling is incorrect

Simplified Steps in the Judgment Collection Process

  1. Obtain a Writ of Execution: After winning a judgment, the creditor must obtain a writ of execution from the court, which authorizes the seizure of the debtor's assets.

  2. Locate the Debtor’s Assets: Conducting an asset search to identify where the debtor's assets are held.

  3. Enforce the Judgment: Using methods such as bank levies, wage garnishments, or property liens to collect the judgment.

  4. Debtor Examination: If necessary, creditors can request a debtor examination where the debtor must disclose information about their assets under oath.

Detailed Layout of California Judgement Recovery Process

Judgment Awarded by Court

  • A judgment is awarded to the creditor by the court.

Identify Debtor's Assets

  • Debtor Examination: Order debtor to appear in court to disclose assets.

  • Asset Search Services: Utilize professional services to locate assets.

  • Public Records Investigation: Check public records for property ownership.

Obtain Writ of Execution

  • File a request for a writ of execution with the court.

  • The court issues a writ of execution authorizing enforcement actions.

Enforcement Methods

Bank Levy

  • Serve the bank with the writ of execution.

  • The bank freezes the debtor's account.

  • Funds are transferred to the creditor after a holding period.

Wage Garnishment

  • File an application for wage garnishment.

  • Serve the employer with an earnings withholding order.

  • The employer deducts a portion of the debtor's wages until the debt is paid.

Property Lien

  • Record an abstract of judgment with the county recorder.

  • The lien attaches to any real property owned by the debtor in that county.

  • Can force the sale of property or wait until it is sold.

Till Tap/Keeper Levy

  • Apply for a keeper levy (used for businesses).

  • A sheriff/marshal takes control of the cash register to collect cash directly.

  • Alternatively, conduct a till tap to take the cash on hand.

Exempt Assets

  • Social Security benefits

  • Unemployment benefits

  • Some personal property

Collection or Renewal

  • Judgment Collected: Payment is made in full through one or more enforcement methods.

  • Judgment Renewal: If not fully collected, judgments can be renewed before expiration.

  • File an application for renewal of judgment with the court (before the 10-year period ends).

Statistics and Notes:

  • Average Collection Rate: 30-40% of judgments are successfully collected.

  • Time to Collect: Average time ranges from a few months to several years.

  • Judgment Validity: Judgments are valid for 10 years and can be renewed.

  • Exempt Assets: Includes but not limited to Social Security benefits, unemployment benefits, and some personal property.

Small Claims Judgment Collections


Small claims courts in California handle disputes involving relatively small amounts of money, typically up to $10,000 for individuals and $5,000 for businesses. These courts provide a faster and more cost-effective means of resolving disputes, but collecting a small claims judgment can still be challenging.

Collection Process

The process for collecting a small claims judgment is similar to that for larger judgments, involving:

  • Locating the debtor’s assets.

  • Obtaining a writ of execution.

  • Enforcing the judgment through levies, garnishments, or liens.

Common Challenges

Common challenges in small claims judgment collections include:

  • Debtors who are difficult to locate.

  • Debtors who are judgment-proof (i.e., they have no assets or income that can be seized).

  • Legal and procedural complexities that can be daunting for individuals without legal expertise.

Statistics on Judgment Collections

National Perspective

According to various studies, only about 20-30% of civil judgments are ever collected in the United States. This low collection rate underscores the difficulties creditors face in recovering their money.

California Specifics

In California, the collection rate is slightly higher but still presents significant challenges. The state’s robust legal framework and active enforcement agencies contribute to improved outcomes, but many creditors still struggle to collect their judgments.

Small Claims Statistics

For small claims cases, the collection rate is often lower due to the limited resources and legal knowledge of individual creditors. Many small claims creditors give up on collection efforts due to the time and effort required.

How Spade & Archer Private Investigators Can Help

sam spade holding falcon - Spade & Archer™
Spade & Archer is an official source for helping clients with judgements and levies

Spade & Archer is a renowned private investigation firm based in the San Francisco Bay Area, specializing in judgment recovery. Their team of experienced investigators uses a range of techniques to locate assets and enforce judgments effectively.

Asset Search and Identification

Spade & Archer’s investigators are skilled in conducting comprehensive asset searches. They utilize advanced databases and field investigations to uncover hidden assets, including bank accounts, real estate, vehicles, and other valuable property.

Bank Levy Assistance

Executing a bank levy requires precise knowledge of legal procedures and meticulous attention to detail. Spade & Archer assists clients by:

  • Preparing and filing the necessary court documents

  • Locating the debtor’s bank accounts

  • Coordinating with the sheriff’s office to enforce the levy

  • Ensuring compliance with all legal requirements

Skip Tracing

In cases where the debtor has gone into hiding or changed their address, Spade & Archer’s skip tracing services come into play. Their investigators use sophisticated techniques to track down the debtor, ensuring that no one escapes their financial obligations.

Legal Support

The legal landscape surrounding judgment recovery can be complex. Spade & Archer works closely with attorneys to navigate the intricacies of the process, from obtaining writs of execution to representing clients in court if necessary.

Negotiation and Settlement

In some cases, it may be more practical to negotiate a settlement with the debtor. Spade & Archer’s investigators are adept at negotiating favorable terms, ensuring that clients recover as much of the owed amount as possible without prolonged legal battles.

Timeline for Judgment Recovery

The timeline for judgment recovery can vary significantly based on several factors:

  • Complexity of the Case: Simple cases with readily available assets may be resolved in a few months, while more complex cases involving hidden assets can take longer.

  • Debtor's Cooperation: Cooperative debtors who agree to payment plans can speed up the process, whereas uncooperative debtors can prolong it.

  • Legal Proceedings: The time required to obtain and enforce court orders can impact the overall timeline.

  • Investigation Duration: The thoroughness and duration of asset searches and skip tracing efforts also play a role.

Why Choose Spade & Archer?

Local Expertise

With deep roots in the San Francisco Bay Area, Spade & Archer understands the local legal environment and has established strong relationships with local law enforcement and legal professionals.

Proven Track Record

Spade & Archer has a long history of successful judgment recoveries. Their investigators’ expertise and dedication have helped numerous clients recover substantial amounts of money that were rightfully theirs.

Confidential and Professional Service

Client confidentiality and professional integrity are at the core of Spade & Archer’s operations. They handle each case with the utmost discretion, ensuring that sensitive information is protected at all times.


Judgment recovery and bank levies can be daunting and complex processes. However, with the assistance of experienced private investigators like Spade & Archer in the San Francisco Bay Area, you can significantly increase your chances of successfully collecting the money you are owed. Whether you need help locating hidden assets, executing a bank levy, or negotiating a settlement, Spade & Archer’s dedicated team is ready to support you every step of the way.

For more information or to schedule a consultation, visit Spade & Archer's website or contact their office directly. Let Spade & Archer take the stress out of judgment recovery and help you reclaim your financial peace of mind.


What is the first step in judgment recovery?

The first step in judgment recovery is to identify and locate the debtor’s assets. This can involve conducting an asset search and may require professional assistance from private investigators like Spade & Archer.

How long does it take to recover a judgment?

The time it takes to recover a judgment varies depending on the debtor’s willingness to pay and the complexity of locating their assets. With professional help, the process can be expedited.

Can a private investigator help with small claims judgments?

Yes, private investigators can assist with small claims judgments by locating the debtor’s assets, executing levies, and navigating the legal processes involved in collection.

What happens if the debtor has no assets?

If the debtor has no assets, they are considered judgment-proof. In such cases, it may be difficult to collect the judgment, but periodic asset searches can be conducted to identify any future assets the debtor may acquire.

How much does it cost to hire a private investigator for judgment recovery?

The cost of hiring a private investigator for judgment recovery varies based on the complexity of the case and the services required. It is best to contact Spade & Archer directly for a detailed quote based on your specific needs.


bottom of page