Does a Judgment Have to Be Paid Before Closing Escrow?

Does a Judgment Have to Be Paid Before Closing Escrow?
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Waiting to close escrow on your new home is an anxious time. Although you've complied with every request for information from your lender, there's always a chance the escrow agent will call and ask you to bring more money to closing. You may have to pay off an old debt before escrow will close. If that debt is a judgment, your obligation to pay it off before closing escrow depends on the type of the judgment and mortgage for which you were approved.

Periodic Judgment

Generally speaking, there are two types of judgments that a court can enter against you. One is a periodic judgment, such as a judgment for payment of child support or alimony. A debtor pays a periodic judgment over time, with a new payment due every month. Lenders consider child support in computing a borrower's debt-to-income ratio. In most cases, a lender will require you to show that support payments are current as of the date of closing, but will not require you to pay the entire judgment before you close escrow.

Lump Sum Judgment

The other type of judgment is a lump sum judgment that is due as soon as it is entered. A debtor can't pay a lump sum judgment in installments unless the judgment creditor agrees to accept installment payments. A creditor enforces a lump sum judgment by garnishing the debtor's wages or filing a lien against the debtor's property until the judgment is fully paid. If you close on your house with an outstanding lump sum judgment, the judgment creditor could file a lien against your house and start foreclosure actions if you don't pay the judgment.

Government-Insured Mortgage

If your home loan is backed by the government -- for example, an FHA loan -- then you must pay a lump sum judgment in full before closing escrow. The loan underwriter considers a judgment to be a major indication of derogatory credit. Federal loan underwriting guidelines clearly require a borrower to pay a judgment before the lender can fund a loan eligible for FHA insurance. The only exception is where the judgment debtor and judgment creditor agree in writing to a payment plan.

Buying on Contract

You may not have to pay a judgment in full if you are purchasing your home on contract. With a contract sale, the seller of the home is also the lender. In most cases, title to the home does not pass to the buyer until the buyer pays the loan in full. A judgment creditor cannot file a lien on the debtor's house because the house is not titled in the debtor's name. A contract seller may allow you to close on a house sale without paying a lump sum judgment against you.