Guiding consumers since 2009

This is what you should do if you receive a judgement

By Isabelle Coetzee

If you fall behind on your monthly debt payments for more than twenty working days, your creditors will be forced to take steps to ensure the debt is settled.

First, you’ll receive a Section 129 Notice, which will inform you of your outstanding debt. If you don’t take any action, you’ll be served with a summons and thereafter a judgement will be granted.

But what can you do once this legal process has started? Justmoney got in touch with one of the credit bureaus to find out what you can do after receiving a judgement.

Tip: If you’re struggling with your debt, fill in the form on this page to get the help you need.

Steps to take after receiving a judgement

According to Experian South Africa, once a judgement is granted, you should immediately take action

“Contact the attorneys and make arrangements to settle the debt in order to avoid the sheriff attaching movable or immovable property and selling it at an auction to satisfy the debt,” says Experian.

They add that the attorneys may also opt to attach your salary, which will require your employer being informed of the situation to allow for the deductions. They suggest the following:

  1. Work out how you can start paying off the account that was the cause of the judgment.
  2. The attorneys should be able to negotiate with the credit provider or arrange an alternative repayment plan.
  3. If you can’t manage the above, you may need to seek help from a debt counsellor. If you have a lot of bad debt, this may be an option for you. Remember that if you’re under debt counselling before the judgment is taken, then the credit provider has to stay the proceedings and can’t take judgment.
  4. If it’s only one account that has reached this stage, it would be wise to put as much spare money into paying off the bad debt.
  5. If you manage to settle the judgment debt, you can obtain a settlement letter referencing the case number and submit it to the credit bureaus, after which the judgment will be removed from your credit profile.

“You can undergo debt counselling, even if you have a judgment, but you must be able to make some form of payment and have a stable income, no matter how little it is,” says Experian.

READ MORE: Are you in debt denial?

Impact on your credit score

Judgments are never a good thing to have on one’s credit report. However, Experian point out that credit reports and scores can still recover from having a judgment.

They highlight the following points regarding judgements and credit scores:

  • Judgments remain on your credit profile for five years, or until the specific judgment’s debt has been paid in full , abandoned or rescinded.
  • After it’s removed, a credit provider can’t take it into account when calculating your credit score. However, the judgment’s debt is still collectable for a period of 30 years. In other words, the fact that it’s not displayed on your credit profile, doesn’t mean it’s no longer due.
  • Note that credit scores take a long time to improve on. While a judgment is not great for your score, consistent repayment of your debt and lower credit use are what contribute the most to a good score.

What if you can’t pay your debt?

Experian has found that the majority of people who are unable to meet their credit obligations simply do nothing. They explain that this is a very bad practice and recommends the following instead:

  1. Avoid legal action by only taking on debt you know you can afford to pay back and by making your full, regular payments.
  2. When taking out credit, make sure you have credit life insurance to cover disability and death at a minimum. In addition, you may want to ensure it covers retrenchment, especially for the larger sums. Check your agreements carefully. Some providers make this mandatory and you may not even know that you have the benefit of insurance.
  3. If in arrears by one or a few months, try to make the payment and make sure you contact your provider to inform them of this.
  4. Don’t ignore calls from your creditors. Talk to your provider; if you know in advance, phone them and make a payment arrangement.
  5. Most credit providers are willing to help ensure you make some kind of payment. Contact them if you’re in arrears to find out how they can help.
  6. If you have credit life insurance, contact them and start the process of claiming – in the case of retrenchment or disability, check that your insurance covers these.
  7. If you have credit life insurance, make sure a trusted loved one knows what credit and insurances you have in case you pass on and they need to provide information to the estate attorney.
  8. Check your credit report regularly. If there is any incorrect or fraudulent information on your credit report, this would reflect badly on your score. Fraudulent activity could create a serious situation that could spiral out of control if it goes undetected and unreported.

Take charge of your debt today. Go to this page and fill out the form – a debt counsellor will call you.

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