How Do I Find Out If I Have Any Judgments Against Me In Texas?
Check Public Court Records
The following links will take you to the online case search system for each county’s court systems. Not every county is online and some only allow you to search their county or district courts, not their justice courts. Others, like Harris and Travis, have separate search systems for different levels of court. To be sure there is no judgment against you it is likely necessary to check each level of court in your jurisdiction. They do not usually share records. If your courts are not listed below, you’ll need to call them and speak to a clerk or go to the courthouse.
Check Your Credit Report
If you can’t find any judgments by checking the court links above, then checking your credit report is easy. Each of the three credit bureaus is required to provide one free credit report at your request each year, so consider using only one of the three and saving the other two for later unless there’s something particularly concerning that you feel you should double check with another bureau. Checking your credit report in this way does not impact your credit score.
You can request your free credit report through the following link:
Just click the red button, “Request your free credit reports” and follow the instructions. “Annual Credit Report” is a service operated jointly by the three credit bureaus and is therefore the most secure and direct way to access your credit reports. If you are out of free credit reports for the year, you can contact the credit bureaus to find out the cost of ordering an additional credit report in your state using the following phone numbers:
Experian: (888) 397-3742 TransUnion: (800) 888-4213 Equifax: (800) 685-1111
Public records information is usually listed near the top of your credit report. However, in 2017 the credit reporting bureaus all stopped including civil judgments on their credit reports. This agreement was part of a settlement called the National Consumer Assistance Plan. It is still possible that this agreement will change or that it has been implemented imperfectly, so while judgments should not appear on your credit report checking to be sure is not a bad idea.
At the very least, checking in on your credit report may give you a clearer picture of your credit situation and alert you to other potential issues you may face in the future. You may even find some questionable records worth disputing with the credit bureaus.
What is a judgment?
A “judgment” marks a decision by a judge to “dispose of” (end) a case in favor of one party of the other. While it may be possible to appeal a judgment, this is often difficult, expensive, and only viable under specific circumstances. Learning if your case has become a judgment is vital!
- Default Judgment
Perhaps the most common reason someone receives a judgment in a debt lawsuit, “default judgments” occur when one party fails to meet a critical deadline for response in the case. Usually this happens when the defendant fails to respond to the plaintiff’s initial petition. If you miss the deadline to respond the judge may be forced to proceed as though everything the plaintiff (your creditor) alleged in their petition is true. These allegations, taken as true, will leave no room for the case to proceed in your favor and it will likely be resolved against you for the complete amount of the debt and possibly adding on some court costs.
- Summary Judgment
Even if you meet the deadlines to respond a judgment can occur without a trial. “Summary judgment” may be filed if you respond to the plaintiff’s petition but fail to sufficiently contest the facts it alleges. Trials attempt to answer the question of what happened. If, before trial, the judge rules that there are no longer any significant disputes about what happened then the only thing left is to decide what the law says should be done about it. Judges can decide this themselves following a motion for summary judgment and bring an end to the case.
- Trial Judgment
If you hire a lawyer to represent you in your debt lawsuit there’s a good chance your case will be resolved before going to trial. Generally, trials are risky because unless very specific steps are taken, they usually force a case to a close in favor of one party or the other. If the plaintiff wins, the court will likely file a judgment against you for the full debt amount, possibly along with court costs.
What Happens After a Judgment?
It may not be immediately clear that a judgment has been filed against you because there may not be any immediate consequences. However, the creditor who sued you is now entitled to pursue various remedies to collect on that judgment. In addition, once a judgment is filed against you it will likely begin to accumulate interest, increasing in value over time until the debt is satisfied. Some methods a plaintiff may use to collect on their judgment include (but are not limited to):
- Garnishment of Bank Account(s)
In Texas creditors are not allowed to garnish your wages, but they can garnish your bank accounts. Once a judgment has been filed, a creditor can ask the court for a “writ of garnishment,” ordering your bank to freeze your account(s) and turn over any funds in them to the creditor. If your wages are direct deposited into an account they’ve successfully garnished you may still lose them to the judgment, along with anything else in the account.
- Seizure of Property
Creditors may also attempt to seize any personal property of value by asking the court for a “writ of execution.” If granted, this will allow the creditor to send a law enforcement officer to your home, business, or other property to search for non-exempt property they might seize and sell to recover the balance of the judgment.
- Post-Judgment Discovery
In order to better effect either of the prior two options, a creditor may ask the court to force you to appear for depositions or to otherwise answer questions about your assets. Failure to comply with these orders can cause you to be held in contempt of court, which can involve fines or even jail time.
While the above list is not exhaustive, it does detail the most common steps creditors may take to satisfy judgments they’ve won against you. Judgments can also prevent you from securing or refinancing loans, appear on background checks, and may stop you from selling your house, so it’s important to know if one has been filed against you!
How Do I Know if a Judgment Has Been Filed Against Me in a Texas Court?
If your case proceeded all the way to trial, you are probably aware of the outcome. Default judgments are another matter, though. Since default happens when someone misses a deadline, often defendants aren’t even aware there was a case against them when a judgment is filed. And even if you respond to the plaintiff’s petition to avoid default, monitoring the case and preventing its disposal via summary judgment can be challenging. If you have debt you’re concerned may have been brought to court, consider looking for any judgments against you.
Check with the Court (links above)
Judgments are typically part of the public record and will be accessible through the court in which the lawsuit was filed. Lawsuits will usually be filed in the courts covering the defendant’s jurisdiction. So civil debt lawsuits filed against Texas residents will typically be filed in their local Justice of the Peace Court, County Court, or County District Court. It is possible, however, (especially if you’ve recently moved or have multiple residences) that a case may have been filed against you using an incorrect or outdated address.
Where Was the Case Against Me Filed?
If you are worried there might be a judgment filed against you in Texas, you should check your local courts. Some Texas counties have online record search systems for their courts which are available for public use. If you’re lucky and live in such a county, you should be able to easily locate any judgment on file against you by searching for your name. You can also search your spouse’s or child’s name if there’s a chance they were named as the defendant. See the bottom of this article for a list of links to online court record search systems.
If your local courts do not have an online record search system or if only some of them do, you can try calling your court and asking the clerks there to check their records for a judgment (or active case) naming you as a defendant. You may be asked to identify yourself; it’s best to be as courteous as possible with court clerks and comply with answering any questions they have. Just explain you’re worried there may be a judgment or case against you and that you want to make sure nothing has happened. If you’re calling a justice court, often they’ll be able to search your name in the other justice courts for your county (this may vary), but they are unlikely to have access to the county and county district court records, so you may have to call them separately.
If you are not able to get in touch with a clerk in your local court, you can try going to the courthouse itself. Be sure to check its hours of operation and parking details online before you go. You should ask to speak to a clerk who can help you search for civil judgment records. Note that many courts charge a small fee for copies of any records you request.
Third-Party Records Search Engines
Some third-party services exist that can be used to search for public record documents that may not be otherwise available online. You will often run into these when searching online for phrases like “Texas Public Record Search.” It is almost always better to contact the court. These services usually cost a nominal fee per result you access and often aren’t comprehensive.
If You’ve Tried the Above and Are Still Concerned:
Contact a debt defense attorney. Larger debt defense teams like ours here at Weston Legal speak to court clerks and deal with their websites daily. We are familiar with every county in Texas and the best way to find out about any judgments in each one. We can also provide you with advice and options given information like the age of the judgment and your current financial situation, which talking to a court won’t help you understand. It is possible to handle a judgment on your own, but you can generally expect a better outcome when you turn to an experienced team of professionals like ours.
If you’re concerned you might have a judgment out there and you’re not sure how to find it, or if you used this article to find out about a judgment, call us at the number below for a free consultation and we’ll let you know how we can help.