A levy (also known as a garnishment) of a debtor’s bank account is one of the least complex ways to get paid, if you know where your debtor banks.
Even this simple method can seem complex, but after you do this once, it will be easier next time. Your court may have an advisor to offer some help.
If you do not know where a debtor banks, finding their bank account is sometimes difficult. Of course if the debtor has almost no money in their account, a levy is a waste of time and money.
Bank accounts can be found by having an old check from the debtor, having someone buy something from the debtor, a debtor examination, examining third-parties such as a friend or business partner, or hiring a private investigator.
Most States let you levy on any branch of the bank within the State. In California, the law is (unless the bank agrees otherwise) one must serve the exact same branch of the bank where the debtor first opened their account.
This law (CCP 684.110) was written in days of the typewriter, where one had to refer constantly to filed signature cards. Those days are long gone, and since money is fungible, it is silly to pretend the debtor’s cash is only at one specific branch. As an example, you can get cash from your bank account at any branch.
Some banks such as Wells Fargo are modern and smart enough to let you serve any branch. Most other California banks make it harder to enforce judgments by making you serve the specific branch. Some banks, like Chase, are particularly uncooperative on bank levies. If the bank does not cooperate, you might be able to sue them, but that is beyond the scope of this article.
The first step of a bank levy is to get a writ. The writ is a paper form showing that the Court agrees you have permission to have a Sheriff take a debtor’s assets. Writs cost $25, and generally last for only six months.