Wondering if there are any judgments against you is unsettling at best. An unresolved judgment can prevent you from buying or selling a house, getting a car loan and from getting a job. If you have been sued, you should have been served documents explaining the lawsuit and telling you when it was being heard. However, if you have recently moved, the plaintiff may not have been able to find you to serve your documents. Similarly, if you decided not to attend the hearing, the county clerk would have mailed you the results of the hearing and warned you of any liens or garnishments that were ordered. Because the results are a matter of public record, you'll be able to get a copy if you need one.
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Credit Report Search
Under the rules of the Federal Trade Commission, you have the right to a free credit report each year. In addition to information about how you pay your bills, that credit report will include information about judgments that have been levied against you. However, because these are reported individually, it may take some time for them to appear. There are three types of judgments that will appear on your credit report:
- Bankruptcy: A Chapter 13 bankruptcy will show for seven years and a Chapter 7 bankruptcy will show for 10 years from the time you file.
For a more thorough search of your records, Attorney Damon Duncan recommends a direct county search. Most counties allow you to search public records via their website. The other option is to go to the courthouse and request your records in person. Either
way, Duncan warns that you should run a search not only on your name, but on your address as well. This is because a judgment could have been recorded as a lien on your property .
Full Background Checks
For a more comprehensive background check, including all judgments both criminal and civil, you can run a free background check through your State's Department of Justice website. However, the data reported there will only include judgments that occurred within that state's jurisdiction. If you want a more comprehensive report, you can consider hiring a background check company. Should you decide to do this, keep in mind that only Consumer Reporting Agencies (CRAs) are regulated under the Fair Credit Reporting Act. CRAs not only maintain certain minimum standards, but they must offer dispute resolution should you find something in your report that you don't agree with. Make sure that the company you hire checks with multiple sources, as there is no requirement that all of the agencies update their records at the same time.
Consider setting up a Google Alert for anything published under your name. That way, you'll receive an email if any documents are filed with your name included in them.
Out of State Lawsuits
Most lawsuits against you will be filed in your home county. The exceptions to this are criminal lawsuits and lawsuits related to car accidents or property disputes. All of these will be filed in the county in which the incident occurred. Attorney John Mennie suggests that you follow-up with your insurance company -- and possibly an attorney -- if you are in an accident while out of state, because each state has different liability laws. As with local judgments, the courts should notify you of the results of any hearings that take place. However, if you do not receive any documents, but you are worried that a lawsuit may have been filed, you'll be able to search via that county's website.