Money Matters: The Truth About Small Claims

You might think Small Claims Court is only for trashy folks on Judge Judy, but when you’re a college student with little power, it can be easy for someone to blindside you by taking advantage of you (and your finances) when you least suspect it. That actually happened to me, when I was subletting from a psychopath who decided to change the locks on me one day and keep my entire rent check (it was the first week of the month when I was forced out) and my security deposit.

If I thought I was shocked when I was suddenly barred from my own home, I was even more surprised when I learned the ropes of actually going to small claims court. Why does this lesson fit into Money Matters? Because you actually have to spend quite a bit of money if you want to get what is owed to you in the long run.

In order to file your claim, you will need any articles of evidence pertaining to your case. Any contracts, agreements, or legal statements should be compiled and photocopied. Then you will have to pay a fee just to have your case processed. For me, I had to pay to get several of my documents photocopied, and then cut a check for $100 to the court just to proceed. $100 when I was already out over a grand. Still, at that point, it had become a pride issue, and I wasn’t going to let this snake take advantage of one more poor, naive girl.

Depending on the rules of your particular state, you may also have to pay for an officer to personally deliver the small claims summons to the other party. The problem with that is that the officer can only try the house so many times before all of your paperwork is returned to you, with a stamp that reads “Undeliverable.” So I had to try again. After the second set of docs was returned, I found my villain’s work address (ironically, he was a bank teller) and the po-po brought his small claims summons to the bank where he worked.

Once the opposing party has received their summons, a date will be set, and you will arrive in small claims court, where the judge will listen to both parties and set a declaration. If one party does not show up (in my case, the defense was absent), the present party will automatically win. The downside? Just because I automatically won my case, there is actually nothing that the court can do to retrieve your money.

When the verdict is passed, the court will add all fees that you have spent on the case to the opposing party’s debt to you– in my case, it was decided that I was owed my claim PLUS $100. Whatsmore, with every passing year, a certain interest rate will be tacked on as well. For me, it’s 11% interest.

The d-bag who wronged me now has a lein out on his name, which means that his credit is ruined, and, in some way that I don’t quite understand, he can’t sell anything of immense value (e.g. his car) until the debt is paid off. But I have not received compensation to this day, since I have stated that the court can’t actually force the guilty party to make a payment. For the record, as far as I know, the sketchball married some girl in order to put most of his things in her name, and the amount of money he owes me has doubled.

I think it’s ironic that in order to fight for the money that is owed you, you have to spend quite a bit AND can’t always get what is owed to you, even if you win. That’s why it’s important not to go Judge Judy just because you’re pissed at someone who owes you a few bucks. In my case, it was worth it, because I faught the bastard, and won, but it might not be the smartest bet every time.

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