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Judgment Proof: What does this mean?

Oak Park, IL |

Okay. I'm being sued by a credit card company and my only source of income is SSDI, so I'm judgment proof. Do I need to file an appearance and defend even though I can't pay the debt, not even in installments? Will the card company get a judgment no matter what, if the complaint is valid? Or will the judge not grant the judgment if I can prove that SSDI is my only source of income?

Attorney Answers 3

  1. Best answer

    Judgment proof means that the Plaintiff will be unable to collect. It does not mean that a Judgment cannot be entered against you.

  2. Even though you are judgment proof, you will still want to respond to the lawsuit, either personally or through your lawyer, by the date specified in the court papers to preserve your rights. Do not ignore a lawsuit. If credit company wins the lawsuit, the court will enter a judgment against you. The judgment states the amount of money you owe, and allows the credit card company to attach the order to any of your assets. Therefore, although the judgment may not allow your SSDI income to be garnished, the judgment may be attached to any of your assets, like your home.

    Information on Avvo should not be construed as legal advice, as each case is different. For information about your specific case, please contact a consumer law attorney, or contact me at

  3. Judgment proof today does not mean you will be judgment proof forever. A judgment is valid for 7 years after entry and can be revived later. If you obtain additional assets later, the creditor can still pursue you then for them, even if you were "judgment proof" on the day judgment was entered against you. If you were to win the lottery or receive an inheritance, the creditor could pursue those assets at a later date. That being said, there are reasons to defend or not defend a given suit. I would not instruct anyone in the general public with a legitimate defense not to appear and defend a suit. There are times when defending is not in your best interest, for example, if the other party is entitled to attorney's fees and litigation costs and you do not have a legitimate defense, you can end up costing yourself more in attorney's fees and collateral consequences than the original claim was worth. A good example of this was the sexual harassment suit against President Clinton that led to the Monica Lewinsky affair coming to light. A highly respected attorney once gave an interesting commentary criticizing Clinton's attorneys because if they had ignored the suit, allowed a default judgment to be entered, and said that engaging in litigation was beneath the President, a judgment of $100,000.00 to $200,000.00 would have been entered. Instead, millions of dollars in attorneys fees were incurred on both sides, and a much larger judgment that included fees and costs was eventually entered, in addition to the other adverse consequences that President Clinton suffered as a result of the litigation, up to and including impeachment and looking very foolish. Defending a suit vigorously is sometimes not a very good idea.
    In answer to your direct questions: (1) consult an attorney directly to decide whether you should appear and defend. (2) A judge can order installment payments even if you show up and claim not to be able to pay anything. (3) If the complaint is valid, in a perfect world, it would result in a judgment; however, sometimes things go awry -- for example, maybe a given judge wants to give a pro se litigant an unjustified break or perhaps the credit card company or its assignee loses necessary paperwork. (4) Whether or not you can pay is irrelevant to the issue of whether a judgment should be entered; it is only relevant to payment terms and post-judgment collection activity.