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Collecting a Judgment

Information on this web page is general in nature. Descriptions of laws and court procedures are abbreviated. This information is not intended as legal advice. If you do not understand this information or if you need legal advice you should see an attorney.

Payment is Not Guaranteed 

Having a civil judgment for money damages in your favor does not guarantee that you will be paid.  Although most people with judgments against them pay voluntarily, some do not.  Some defendants forget to pay, some do not have enough money to pay, and some simply refuse to pay. There are court procedures for collecting a judgment when a defendant fails to pay.  

What can be done to collect my judgment?

You may work with the defendant to collect payment without court intervention or, if necessary, you may follow a court procedure to enforce your judgment.

Negotiate Payment (settlement agreement)

If the defendant is willing to pay, but cannot pay the entire amount all at once, you might consider allowing the person to satisfy the debt by installment payments or by a set date in the future.  Or, you might negotiate the transfer of property from the defendant to you instead of money.  These types of arrangements are called settlement agreements. If you reach a settlement agreement with the defendant, be sure to write down the terms of your agreement, date it, and have both you and the defendant sign it. Keep a copy of the agreement.  

Execution of a Judgment 

Using the court system to collect a judgment, also called "executing on a judgment," can be complicated. If you do not understand any part of this information, you should see an attorney.

If a defendant does not pay the judgment and refuses to cooperate, there are court procedures for collecting the judgment.  The most commonly used procedure is called execution of a judgment.  Before beginning court action, you should try to identify any assets or property belonging to the defendant, determine the location of this property, and identify the defendant's place of employment.  Once you have this information, you may proceed to execute on the judgment. See Iowa Code chapters 626 and 654.

  • You must use the Iowa eFile system to file electronically unless you get permission from the court to file in paper. For instructions on using the Iowa eFile system, see the eFile system instructions and User Guide. File a Praecipe and pay the filing fee. A Praecipe is a legal document that tells the clerk of court to begin the legal process of collecting (executing on) a judgment that the defendant is not paying. The praceipe directs the clerk of court to issue an execution directed to the sheriff of the county where the asset or property is located.

  • The clerk will prepare and issue a document that indicates the entry and amount of judgment and directs the county sheriff to seize the defendant's specific property or assets or garnish (take a portion of) the defendant's wages (general execution).  If an execution involves real estate, you need to provide the clerk with a legal description of the property.

  • The sheriff will serve execution papers on anyone who holds assets belonging to the defendant, such as a bank, credit union, or other financial institution, or the defendant's employer.  The sheriff may collect payment or seize personal property, or if real estate is involved the sheriff may initiate a sale of the property

  • The sheriff will turn over any payments taken from the defendant to the clerk.  You must electronically file a request for an order "condemning" the funds held by clerk.  The court will then order the clerk to pay you the amounts collected by the sheriff.  You must pay the sheriff's fee. The sheriff will continue collection efforts until the judgment is satisfied or for a 120-day period.  If the judgment is not fully satisfied within 120 days, you may repeat the process.

Debtor's Exam   

A debtor's exam is a way to find out what property or assets the defendant has that can be used to pay you for the judgment. It can be used if you ("judgement creditor") have obtained a judgment against the defendant  ("judgment debtor")  and have attempted an execution on the judgment, but the judgment debtor still has not paid the debt.  In this situation, you can file a request for a debtor's exam.  You and the judgment debtor will have to appear in court where you may question the judgment debtor under oath regarding the amount and location of the judgment debtor's assets (e.g., bank accounts, real property).  See Iowa Code chapter 630.  

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