Bret Nason

Attorney at Law

Bret Nason

Attorney at Law

The Bankruptcy Alphabet – S is for Small Claims

I frequently get calls and emails asking, “what happens if I get sued?” In most cases, these people have been sued in small claims for a credit card or other debt that has gone into default. Keep in mind that small claims suits are not criminal cases that will result in jail time for the debtor. The worst that will happen is that the creditor will get a judgment and then try to collect on that judgment via a bank account levy or wage garnishment.

The next question usually is, “does it matter if I file my bankruptcy before or after the creditor gets its small claims judgment?” The answer depends on your individual situation. If you’re unemployed and have no non-exempt assets, probably not. If you’re employed and your wages are not exempt from garnishment, it’s usually better to file the bankruptcy before the judgment is entered and the creditor begins collecting on that judgment.

Small claims judgments are typically dischargeable in bankruptcy. So the obligation to pay on that judgment will probably be eliminated whether you file your bankruptcy before or after the small claims suit is completed. If you file before the judgment, the judgment will not be entered. If you file after the judgment, the creditor may be able to collect on the judgment from the time of the judgment until you actually file the bankruptcy, but won’t be able to collect once you file. In short, the timing of the bankruptcy filing doesn’t usually make a big difference, but you should talk to your attorney to learn if the specifics of your situation require an earlier or later filing.

Many consumers are afraid of getting sued in small claims, largely because they don’t know what will happen. Information can relieve that stress and allow you to make good decisions. If you have questions about small claims suits, feel free to ask in the comments below or on my Facebook page. While I can’t give legal advice without meeting you face-to-face, I can answer general questions.

Bankruptcy attorneys from around the country are taking part in this “Bankruptcy Alphabet” exercise. Please take a few minutes to check out these other blog posts on the letter “S.”

Scared – by Jacksonville Bankruptcy Attorney, J. Dinkins G. Grange
Schedules and Statements – by Omaha/Lincoln, Nebraska Bankruptcy Attorney, Ryan D. Caldwell
Section 341 Meeting – by Allen Park, Michigan Bankruptcy Attorney, Christopher McAvoy
Security Interest – by Jay S. Fleischman
Signs You Should Consider Filing for Bankruptcy – by Livonia, Michigan Bankruptcy Attorney, Peter Behrmann
SOFA – by Northern Bay Area Bankruptcy Lawyer Cate Eranthe
Spouse – by Cleveland Bankruptcy Attorney Bill Balena
Statement of Intention – by Metro Richmond Bankruptcy Attorney, Mitchell Goldstein
Statutory Lien – by Dorota Trzeciecka Bankruptcy Blog
Step Plan – by Kurt O’Keefe Michigan bankruptcy lawyer
Strip – by Bay Area bankruptcy lawyer Cathy Moran
Stripping – by Los Angeles Bankruptcy Attorney, Mark J. Markus
Student Loans – by Colorado Springs Bankruptcy Lawyer Bob Doig
Student Loans – by Hawaii Bankruptcy Lawyer, Stuart T. Ing
Student Loans – by Lakewood, Ca Bankruptcy Attorney Christine A. Wilton
Stuff – by WilksLaw, DC Metro
Surrender – by Metro Richmond Consumer and Bankruptcy Attorney, Mitchell Goldstein

Image Credit: TooFarNorth/flickr


  1. jef

    I have a small claims case scheduled against a former employer for unpaid wages. I just received notice that he filed chap 13. I assume this means I shouldn’t bother? Do I call the courthouse to cancel the date, or will they know?


    • Bret Nason

      You should speak to a local bankruptcy attorney. Unpaid wages are typically priority debts under §507(a)(4) of the Bankruptcy Code. In the employer’s Chapter 13, priority debts must be paid in full (§1322(a)(2)). Your attorney will want to see the plan to determine how your claim is being treated.

  2. Rochelle Marshall

    Hello I have two Judgments against me they are both dated from 2002-2005 totaling $17,900.00 with separate companies. I tried negotiating for at least 40-50% paying cash and was refused. I was offered only 30% Is it possible if I can get a lower rate to pay both judgments in full (cash) if I file Bankruptcy?

    • Bret Nason

      If you file bankruptcy, the judgments will likely be discharged and you won’t pay anything on them. You should talk to a local consumer bankruptcy attorney to learn about your options. Here is a good resource:

  3. Beth

    Im currently in chapter 13 (2 yrs in) I was notified of a small claims against me, my attorney says to just go in and tell the judge that Im in chapter 13 and the ppl filing the claim against me did not get permission to go after me?? He left me with the impression we would deal with it after whatever happened after that? I don’t know what to expect? Im leaving for florida for 12 days a few days after the court date and Im worried the judge may try to freeze my bank account? I need my bank account for this trip (job search) and Im worried I won’t have money? If I lose do they go after my bank account asap? I pay a federal bankruptcy trustee every two weeks to pay back my debt. If I state that Im in Chapter 13 can the judge move forward or does it have to go through the bankruptcy court? Thanks

    • Bret Nason

      I don’t give legal advice on this site, only general information. I’m also not going to contradict your attorney when he knows much more about your case than I do.

      If you are unsatisfied with your attorney’s advice, you should contact him and ask for clarification. Good luck!

  4. Zequek Estrada

    It kind of seems like it usually depends on your individual situation if you’re dealing with legal issues. I don’t know anything about bankruptcy. However, I feel like most things that concern legal issues need professional assistance.



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  2. Signs You Should Consider Filing for Bankruptcy, Livonia, MI | Livonia Michigan Bankruptcy - [...] Small Claims – Bret Nason      [...]
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