How to Sue Someone Who Owes You Money
Updated: Nov 5
Are you looking to sue someone who owes you money?
For example, if you lent someone money, someone breached a contract with you, or someone damaged your property.
In this article, learn about:
How to file a small claims lawsuit against someone who owes you money.
What to expect during a small claims hearing.
Limits of your lawsuit in Small Claims Court
Fun fact, lawyers are not allowed at the initial small claims hearing! This is to even the playing field so that each party has an equal chance of obtaining justice.
Reach Out to the Person Who Owes You Money
The first thing to do when a problem arises is to communicate with the other party. You want to make sure they understand that they owe you money and how much they owe you. Most of the time just, they will agree to pay you all or most of what you are owed. If a resolution does not occur, then it might be time to escalate the situation.
Save All Evidence
You want to make sure to save all evidence related to your relationship with the other person. For example, you want to make sure to save any contracts, receipts, invoices, and written conversations you have had with the debtor. This includes, but is not limited to, proof of the debt, the amount of the debt, when the payments were due, and proof of any partial payments.
Send a Demand Letter
A demand letter is a letter that outlines a set of requests. For example, you could write to the other party to request payment of the debt and explain why it is still outstanding.
If you eventually decide to sue in California small claims court, you are required to first request your money or property back before you can file the lawsuit. While you can request your money or property back orally, it is suggested you do so in writing in the form of a demand letter.
What to include in the demand letter?
Unsure of what to include in your demand letter? Here are a few suggestions:
How much money you are owed.
Why you are owed money.
Your contact information.
Where to send payment.
Option to pay using a payment plan.
Option to mediate.
Give them a few days to respond (usually about 7 to 14 days).
State that if they don't respond, you intend to sue.
Small Claims Court
If the other party ignored your demand letter, what next? You can sue the other party in a small claims court. But first, here is a background on small claims court in California to help you determine if it is right for you.
Types of Cases that Can be Filed in Small Claims
So long as there isn't another court better suited to hear the case, then the lawsuit can be filed in small claims.
Small Claims Court Limits
This is also known as the "small claims court limits." You can sue for the following maximum amounts:
Use our interactive cost calculator to learn more:
Who to Sue in Small Claims Court
Here are some examples:
If you are owed money because of a personal loan you provided, and the debtor included a cosigner, you also want to include the co-signer as a defendant.
If you are owed your security deposit, you want to make sure you sue the correct legal entity or the individual list as the landlord on your lease.
If you are owed money because someone hit your car, you want to make sure to sue the registered owner of the vehicle.
Starting the Small Claims Court Lawsuit Against the Debtor
Step 1: Complete "Plaintiff's Claim and Order to Go to Small Claims Court" (Form SC-100)
This form starts the California Small Claims Court lawsuit process.
It is also known as the "complaint" or "claim."
This is the first document you need to file if you are suing someone. Download here.
Step 2: File "Plaintiff's Claim and Order to Go to Small Claims Court"
Each California Small Claims Court has a different procedure for filing. You have to check with your local small claims court whether they allow filing in-person, by mail, online, or by fax. Or we can file your case for you!
Step 3: Serve the Debtor
Once you file your California small claims court lawsuit, the next step is to notify the other party that they have been sued. This is called "service of process" (also known as "service"). You must serve the debtor at least 15-20 days before the small claims court hearing (sometimes you are required to serve at least 30 days before the hearing). There are several ways you can serve the debtor including by having a friend serve, hiring a process server, hiring the sheriff, or through the court clerk. We can help you with serving the small claims lawsuit.
The Small Claims Court Hearing
Once you file your case, you will get a hearing date scheduled anywhere between 30-70 days later. During this time, the debtor may call you to try and settle the case.
To prepare for your small claims court hearing:
Research the law. If you are unsure about you the laws involving your lawsuit (aka why you should win your lawsuit), consult an attorney, or conduct your own research about the law (a quick Google search goes a long way).
Prepare your evidence. Invoices, contracts, receipts, etc. You want to have your evidence organized with titles, dates, and why that piece of evidence is important. All your evidence should be geared towards showing the judge why you should win.
Prepare what to say. During the hearing, the judge will ask you why you are suing. If you are being sued, you will be asked why you don't owe the other party money.
Get your receipts for costs ready. For example, your filing fees and any process server costs. Make sure to let the judge know that you would like to be reimbursed for these costs.
Print enough copies of all your evidence. You will need at least three copies (one for you, one for the judge, one for the other side).
Are attorneys allowed in small claims court?
Attorneys are not allowed to represent you or the person you sued at the initial hearing. If the person you sued appeals (meaning they lost and want the judge to decide again) then attorneys are allowed to represent the parties at the appeal hearing.