It used to be that winning a judgment against a debtor meant having the judgment automatically reported to the major credit reporting agencies. When automatic reporting ceased, credit agencies would find out anyway because their routine searches of public records would reveal the information. That is no longer the case. As such, judgments no longer appear on credit reports.
Assuming judgment records are hidden away and sealed so that they can never be uncovered is a mistake. Judgments are the result of court cases. All court cases are a matter of public record. That means civil judgments are easy to find if you know how and where to look. And with more of the world going online every day, it is getting easier for the average person to find records on just about anyone.
What It Means to Creditors
The fact that judgments no longer appear on credit reports may seem like bad news to creditors. Credit reporting used to provide at least some incentive to get a judgment paid so that it would show up accordingly on a person’s credit report. That incentive is no longer there.
On the other hand, certain types of creditors who would benefit from knowing about a potential judgment are still free to dig around. The residential landlord is a perfect example. Most rental applications ask potential renters for a full history of previous addresses. That information, combined with the applicant’s name and Social Security number provide enough information to scour public records in search of judgments.
What It Means to Debtors
As for debtors, they should never assume that a past judgment will not hinder the ability to borrow in the future just because the judgment doesn’t appear on a credit report. As just explained via the landlord example, creditors do have ways of finding out.
A sizable judgment could prevent a debtor from buying a house or car. It could mean higher interest rates and less favorable terms on everything from credit cards to personal loans. A past judgment could be a contributing factor in a debtor not being able to get a good-paying job.
Judgment Collectors Don’t Care
The one group of people who do not really care whether judgments show up on credit reports are collection agencies. Salt Lake City’s Judgment Collectors says your typical debt collection agency pays little attention to credit reports other than to utilize the information to try to figure out what kinds of assets debtors have in their possession.
A collection agency does not care about the judgment itself because they are already actively pursuing it. Not seeing it on a credit report does not change anything the collection agency would normally do.
Judgments Are Court Actions
It is not clear exactly why credit reporting agencies no longer list judgments on consumer credit reports. The assumption is that judgments, because they are the result of court action, don’t always relate to standard consumer debts. In many cases, they do not.
For example, a company pursuing a debtor for unpaid bills is still dealing with a standard debt. But what about an individual who is sued for causing a car accident? The judgment entered against him has nothing to do with his history of paying bills on time. So why would that judgment be on his credit report?
It used to be that credit reports included civil judgments. That is no longer the case. But this does not mean that any record of a judgment has been erased. It is out there. Anyone who wants to find it, and knows how, can do so pretty easily.