Consumer Debt Collection

This is Dial-Law with information on consumer debt collection which applies only to Illinois law and Cook County procedure. If the debtor does not live or work in Cook County, Illinois, we suggest that you contact your local county bar association.

In attempting to collect a debt, a creditor may employ both informal and formal debt collection procedures. The informal procedures usually include numerous letters and phone calls being made to the debtor by a collection agency. However, the Federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act sets forth guidelines which generally prohibit creditors from harassing debtors.

The formal procedure for collecting a debt from a consumer begins with the creditor filing a lawsuit against the debtor. To file a lawsuit the creditor files a complaint against the debtor in one of the branches of the Circuit Court. The Clerk of the Court will issue a summons to the debtor. The summons will be delivered to the debtor, along with a copy of the complaint, by either the county Sheriff or by certified mail. The summons will tell the debtor when and where he must< either appear in court or file a written defense.

If the debtor does not appear or file a written defense, the creditor may be able to obtain a default judgment against the debtor and proceed to collect the money from the debtor. If the debtor does appear or files a written defense, the case will be given a trial date. However, before trial there may be a motion or status dates. These dates should be carefully monitored.

If the creditor obtains a judgment, the creditor has several options on how he can proceed to collect from the debtor.

First, the creditor can ask the Court to issue a document entitled "Memorandum of Judgment." The creditor may record this document in the Cook County Recorder of Deeds' Office. The judgment will then be a lien on any real estate of the debtor located in Cook County for seven years from the date it was entered, and the real estate can be sold to satisfy the lien.

The creditor's second option is to request the Clerk of the Court to issue an Execution. With an Execution, the Sheriff can seize and then sell the personal property and real estate of the debtor to obtain money to satisfy the judgment. However, under Illinois law, a certain amount of personal property and $7,500 per spouse of the value of any real estate occupied by the debtor as a residence for himself and his family are exempt from sale by the Sheriff.

Another option of the creditor is to request the Clerk of the Court to issue a Citation to Discover Assets to collect the judgment. A citation is a type of summons which can compel the debtor, or anyone who the creditor believes has the assets or property of the debtor, to appear in court to testify about any such assets or property. The citation may also prohibit the debtor and other such person from disposing of or transferring the assets or property.

The judge has the power to require that certain assets be turned over to the creditor or the Sheriff for sale.

The creditor may also begin a garnishment proceeding. By this process a creditor attempts to take assets or property of the debtor, including bank accounts and wages. Garnishment is discussed in more detail in Dial-Law number 55. The creditor may also get a wage assignment from the debtor. The creditor's rights under a wage assignment are considered in Dial Law number 54.