What Happens When You Receive a Warrant in Debt?

Unpaid bills can lead not only to financial consequences but legal consequences as well. A warrant in debt is a civil action taken by a creditor against a debtor for the purposes of collecting an outstanding bill. The state of Virginia uses the terminology for this type of summons, and other states may have a different name for it. How you respond to a warrant in debt will help determine what actions the creditor can ultimately take against you.

What is a Warrant in Debt?

A warrant in debt is not part of a criminal proceeding. The warrant is a summons that orders the debtor to appear in court. The warrant informs the debtor that he is being sued for an unpaid debt and tells the debtor which court to make an appearance in, usually General District Court, and it specifies the date for the court appearance.

Why is a Warrant in Debt Significant?

A warrant in debt is delivered in one of two ways. Either the sheriff posts it on the door of the debtor or the creditor sends it to the debtor by mail. Since a warrant in debt is not criminal, the debtor isn't arrested if he doesn't appear on the specified court date. Failure to appear on the court date, however, will the cause the judge to issue a default judgment against the debtor. A judge will also issue a judgment against the debtor if the debtor appears in court and admits to owing the money.

Challenging the Warrant

If you believe you don't owe the money, you can appear before the judge on your first court date and request a trial. The judge will set a future trial date, usually a month or two later. The judge will also give you a date by which you have to submit your grounds of defense in writing. This is simply a statement detailing the reasons why you believe you don't owe the money, including that the debt isn't yours, you've already paid it or the statute of limitations on the debt has expired. You can use the time before the trial to gather any evidence you may have or consult with a lawyer about the merits of your specific case. Failure to submit a grounds of defense is interpreted by the court as an admission that you owe the debt.

Consequences of Receiving a Warrant in Debt

If the creditor obtains a judgment, 10 days after the issuance of that judgment, the creditor may be able to pursue various assets the debtor owns; this includes a wage garnishment. With a wage garnishment, the creditor attaches, or takes, a portion of the debtor's paycheck. In Virginia, a creditor can garnish up to 25 percent of a debtor's wages. A creditor with a judgment can also seek to seize the funds in the debtor's bank account up to the amount of the judgment.