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How do I obtain judgment for a debt of ~$3500? Will I have to hire an attorney?

Phoenix, AZ |

I loaned money to a college student for tuition, books and bus passes. We had a verbal agreement that he would repay me from Pell grant money. I collected ~$2500 from him from the grant money. He repaid $1,000 from wages, and I allowed him to work off about $400. Now, however, although he is employed, he will neither work off the debt nor will he even discuss a repayment plan. Small claims court is only for debts of $2500 or less.

Also, I don't have receipts for all his expenses I paid, but I do have credit card statements showing payments to his college. Would those be acceptable as evidence?

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Attorney answers 3


You may still be able to file in Small Claims Court if you are willing to file your claim within the limits of the court. Meaning, if confirmed that $2500 is the upper limit amount for a small claims case in AZ, you may want to file a small claims case for $2500 rather than push a state court case forward for the "possibility" of only an additional $1000.

Why do this?

It may make more sense to use the streamlined, low-cost (aka no attorneys permitted), relatively expeditious process of small claims court to seek a judgment for this low amount. In deciding if this is a path worth pursuing, consider and weigh the factors including: time, expense, likelihood of a favorable outcome, etc. A verbal contract with "missing" evidence of payments may be difficult to prove.

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You will not need to hire an attorney. You can sue for the full amount owed, but it would have to be in "regular court", where the rules of evidence are more strict. It might be easier for you to sue in small claims court for the limit allowed.
In Cook County, Illinois, we have "Pro Se" court, a latin term meaning "by yourself". It is set up for people to sue without attorneys with easier rules of evidence. See if small claims court in your county is the same or if there is a separate court like our Pro Se Court.
The credit card statements can be acceptable evidence.
Before filing suit, send him a letter demanding payment and threatening a lawsuit if payment is not made.

Please be advised that the advice to you herein does NOT establish an attorney client relationship and that our firm does NOT represent you in any 7 Bankruptcy matter.


I agree that you COULD sue for the money, either by dropping your demand to $2,500 to make it into small claims or by suing in reglar court. BUT, I'm not sure that suing is the best course of action for you. First, you have no written agreement. While you have some statements showing you paid some of the student's bills, and you can show he gave you some money, you have no real proof that any of this was a loan. Second, suing will take a lot of time and effort, even if you don't hire an attorney. And, getting the judgment is only 10% of the battle - the real effort is in collecting. You will have to try to either garnish his wages or levy his bank accounts or hit some other non-exempt asset. This is very difficult. You could hire someone to do that, but that will be very expensive - not worth it for $3,500. Give it some thought.

This answer is not to be considered a response to a specific legal issue in a specific jurisdiction - it is to be considered only a general response to a hypothetical scenario posed by the questioner. For specific legal advice, please consult with a licensed attorney in your jurisdiction.