Thursday, March 17, 2016

Win in Small Claims Court -- and You Can Still Lose

Whenever people find themselves in a dispute, they usually try to find a way to make the other guy do the right thing.  It can be a personal or business issue, and if it's less than a certain amount, the place to get the law on their side is usually small claims court.

At least, that's what they think.

The truth is that small claims court might well be where disputes are decided by a judge, but even if you defy the odds and win your case, that's not the end of the story.  You can win in small claims court and still lose:  Because in small claims court, winning is one thing; enforcing the decisions is a whole other story.

The judge may find the other guy guilty and order him to pay, but the judge can't make him pay. So before you waltz out of small claims court thinking you've won the day, consider this:

Most of the time, the losing party is ordered to pay the amount in full, either in cash or by cashier's check.  But very often, the losing party simply doesn't have the money to pay.  Which means you have to go after him to get your money, which costs you even more time and more money.

The first thing you have to do is file a "till take" order with the Sheriff's Department.  Then you have to pay them to implement it. A "till take" means a sheriff stands in the losing party's place of business and literally takes any money that comes into the business until he gets enough to have you paid.  It can take weeks. Or months. And that's assuming the other party hasn't simply left town.

On the other hand, since over 85% of small claims court cases settle without a trial, you're way better off using an online settlement service, which guarantees delivery of your payment within ten business days.  Here's how:

When you use an online settlement service, the entire process is not only faster than small claims court, it's way less expensive, too.  In a few days, the two parties settle without ever stepping into a courthouse or missing work, because it all happens online.  Once the online settlement service solves your dispute, the losing party pays with a credit card (which isn't even allowed by small claims court) for a Certificate of Final Resolution.  Then the online settlement service sends you a check within ten business days.

You're guaranteed to get your money because the losing party wants to get the matter over with forever.  And by paying with his credit card, he can pay off the amount of the CFR like any other credit card purchase.

With an online settlement service, you get your money, but more importantly, you get on with your life without wasting time and money in small claims court -- where there are no guarantees at all.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Small Claims Court Kills Your Credit Rating

Even those who ends up winning in small claims court usually aren't happy about it. After the time, expense and general frustrations facing the other party, about 15% of all cases filed in small claims court actually land in front of a judge.  Of those, not all are ruled in your favor. If you win, you might not ever collect the amount for which you sued.  But if you lose, it can be even worse:

Most people don't know that if you lose in small claims court, credit rating agencies will use that loss and can downgrade your credit rating even if you pay off the entire amount in a timely fashion.

That's right, in the United States, court decisions are public record.  Anyone can go through them to see who's sued whom, when they sued, for how much -- and whether they won or lost.  The bad news is that credit scoring agencies are constantly reviewing those records and updating them.

This is one more reason why you want to avoid small claims court and use an online settlement service instead.

With an online settlement service, there are no courts, no lawyers, no mediators or arbitrators. You simply file your case online at your convenience. The other party is notified and does the same. After that, the online settlement service calculates the best amount for the two of you.  Once you both agree, the owing party pays the settlement fee by credit card and the other party gets his check within ten business days.

The best part of an online settlement service, however, is that its records are not public.  Even though its Certificate of Final Resolution is totally binding and legal as a court decision, it's completely outside and independent of the court system.  That means no credit company can access its record, keeping your credit score healthy and strong.

More and more people are opting for online settlement services instead of small claims court.  Shop around to see how much faster and better they are for you, too.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Why online small claims courts don't work

If you search the internet for phrases like "online small claims court," you're bound to find all kinds of solutions that claim to remedy disputes better than small claims courts, but the fact is that every one of them is no better than small claims court.  In fact, some are actually worse.

If you really want an online alternative to small claims court, your best bet is an online settlement service.  Here's why:

  1. You still have to use a judge: No matter if it's court, mediation or arbitration, online or offline, all those systems require adjudication. Adjudication means that someone, or some people, are authorized to review and judge the merits of your case.  When you allow some other person to hear your case, you take the risk of them being biased, ignorant about your situation or, to put it plainly, just not very smart.

    An online settlement service has no judge. The system handles everything for you and the other party. The two of you never communicate.  The system does all the work for each of you and provides all the solutions each of you need to settle the case.
  2. Your judgement isn't final.  in all other systems, even the ones offered by state and local governments, the judgement you receive can be appealed by the other party, which means you can go through the entire process all over again, including paying more fees and wasting more time.

    All decisions from an online settlement service are final and cannot be appealed.  Once the matter is settled, each party can download a Certificate of Final Resolution that states, in writing, that the matter has been settled to each party's satisfaction. The CFR also includes a "hold harmless" clause that states neither party may ever litigate the matter again.  No appeals.  It's over and both of you can get on with your lives.
  3. Courts don't honor credit cards. If you lose in court, you must pay the full amount in cash or by check. That can put the losing party in a tough position, or even worse, prevent him from paying at all (and many judgements do go unpaid).

    Online settlement services allow payment by credit card, which makes paying the judgement in full much more likely. When the losing party realizes he can pay the judgement over time, he's much more likely to pay in full.
  4. Online court systems are slow. Like any government institution, online courts move at glacial speed. Your case review could take weeks or months.

    Online settlement services can be over in as little as a day.  It's true! If both parties respond efficiently, the entire matter can be disposed of -- forever -- in as little as one day.
Before you sign on to any "online small claims court," be sure to do your homework.  It may not save you time or money. In fact, it could cost you plenty more of each.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Why arbitration is worse than small claims court.

Just because you have a legal dispute with someone doesn't mean you must end up in small claims court. There are lots of alternatives to small claims court, most of which are called alternative dispute resolution or ADR.  Until now, there were very few methods of ADR:

  1. Mediation: This is when a third party shuttles back and forth between you and the other party, trying to make a compromise deal. The good news is that mediation allows you to avoid small claims court.  The bad news is that mediation costs money. And the longer it takes, the more expensive it is, because mediators usually charge by the hour.
  2. Arbitration: Arbitration is more like a private small claims court, where a private arbitrator listens to the two of you and renders a decision, just like a judge.  There are two kinds of arbitration: binding and non-binding. Binding arbitration leaves you at the mercy of the arbitrator, who could be great -- or could be a dumb as a doorknob. You never know what kind of arbitrator you're going to get (I once had an arbitrator actually fall asleep during the session and everyone around the table had to wait an hour until he woke up!). If you choose binding arbitration, it means both of you agree to abide by the arbitrator's decision.  Non-binding means that neither of you are obligated to follow his decision. In other words, everyone has just wasted a lot of time and money.
Arbitration is the choice of big corporations who don't want to spend a lot of time and money in court.  That's why if you look closely at your financial contracts, there's often a clause about forfeiting your right to litigation in favor of arbitration.

Fortunately, there is now another means to settle your dispute for a lot less, a lot faster: Online settlement services.  With an online settlement service, you submit the offer and the other party submits his. No judges, lawyers, mediators or arbitrators get in the way, slowing things down or  screwing things up. No charging high fees. You write up your description of the case, the other party approves it and the online settlement service does the rest of the work, settling and paying out the matter, usually within a week.

Because it's online, the online settlement service is more convenient, too.  Everything is done at your convenience, from any internet device, anywhere in North America. No missing work. No driving and parking. No chasing the other guy all around the country: If you have his name, e-mail address and phone number, you're good to go.

Before you commit to arbitration, find a reputable online settlement service first. Most don't charge a dime until both parties agree to use them, and even then, it's far faster and less expensive than courts, collections, mediators and arbitrators.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Can I sue in small claims court across the country?

For many disputes, small claims court seems to be the way to win a dispute. Whether the dispute is personal or business, you can get your case decided with legal authority.  But there are some drawbacks:

  1. You might win. But you might also lose. In a substantial number of cases, the judge "splits the baby," compromising both parties and leaving neither with satisfaction.
  2. Court fees and serving summons are going to cost you money, up to a few hundred dollars.
  3. Assuming you win, collecting the money could cost you even more, assuming the other party pays.
  4. If the guy you're suing is across the country, all bets are off. The person you sue has to be in the same jurisdiction as the small claims court. If he's not, you can't sue him.
That last one is the big small claims court killer. These days, with everyone doing business on the internet, there's a much better chance the person giving you trouble is out of state or across the country.  In that case, you have two choices left:

  1. Call a collection agency, wait a few months and maybe get 60% of whatever they collect.
  2. Use an online settlement service.
Online settlement services are relatively new, but solve a lot of the problems plaguing small claims court:

  1. Because they're not a court, they can settle any dollar dispute between any two parties anywhere in North America.
  2. They're as fast as e-mail. Totally online.
  3. They're way less expensive than small claims court and collection agencies.
  4. Because there are no lawyers or judges, the whole process is managed between the two of you without either of you having to contact the other.
  5. The is motivated to pay the plaintiff because he gets a small discount and he can pay be credit card (which small claims courts don't allow).
  6. Once the matter is settled, both parties download a legally binding Certificate of Final Resolution, enforceable throughout North America.
If you have business outside your city or county, you no longer are out of options. Try using an online settlement service to see how fast and effectively you can win and get on with your life.

You don't always get a real judge!

Most people who think about resolving a matter in small claims court believe it's simply a matter of showing up to a courthouse, telling a judge their side of the story, and having the judge force the other guy to pay up.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

In the first place, all courts, including small claims courts, are to backlogged that the average duration of time from filing forms to the actual trial date is over 90 days. Some take even longer. Second, nobody just walks into court. There are forms to file and summons to be served and papers to be processed. All of that costs time and money, but eventually, you're assigned a court date. What happens next may also surprise you:

The person hearing your case might not even be an official judge.

Due to overloaded court schedules, backlogs of cases and the usual budget shortages, it's not unusual for court to find themselves in need of judges to hear cases. When they don't have official judges, they recruit nearby lawyers or elected/appointed commissioners to hear cases. These judges are often called judge pro tem, and are authorized to hear cases, but if you feel you'd rather have a real, live, qualified judge, you're within your rights to insist on one.  The only problem there is that if you do, it's likely that your case will be reassigned to another date, which means even more wasted time.

This is just one more reason why it makes sense to use an online settlement service.  Since over 85% of small claims court cases settle before getting to trial, (chances are good that the judge, commissioner or judge pro tem is going to twist your arm to settle anyway) online settlement services make way more sense: they're faster, they're less expensive and way more convenient because both you and the other party can do everything from any internet device.

Before you head to small claims court, think hard about the time, money and who's really going to hear your case. An online settlement service might be a better choice all the way around.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The secret small claims court won't tell you.

No matter where you live or who you live with, as long as there are more than two people, you're going to get into some kind of disagreement. It's just human nature. Most of the time, you can solve the issue between yourselves, but there are times -- especially when money is involved -- that the problem is so bad that someone else has to render an impartial, binding decision.  In most western countries, that decision is made in court.

The small claims court is where most ordinary citizens go to have their cases decided, mainly because the disputed amounts are low (usually way under US$10,000) and because they can't afford to have a lawyer represent them (attorneys aren't allowed to represent you in small claims court; you have to speak to the judge on your own behalf).

Small claims courts fees can run into the hundreds and can cost you lost wages from work. But the biggest secret that small claims courts won't tell you is this:

Over 85% of all small claims cases settle before they get to trial.

Think about that. You can spend hundreds in time and money expecting to have your case heard by a judge, only to end up settling your case with no trial at all. If that makes you wonder why more people don't simply settle their cases, you're not alone.  There are good reasons why they don't, and the top reason is this:

The only thing people hate more than talking to a judge is talking to the person they're suing.

Research shows that if more people could resolve their disputes without court, without costs and without facing the person they're suing, they'd do it.  This is why it's in your best interest to use an online settlement service.  Services like, for example, offer both parties up to three chances to accept a settlement amount calculated to be acceptable to both parties. Once both parties agree, the deal is sealed with a credit card payment (which is not allowed in small claims court) and there's no harm done to anyone's credit rating (small claims courts report when you lose to credit agencies, which can lower your credit score).

Online settlement services also are faster than small claims courts. Instead of taking months, the entire process can be completed in as little as one day. And unlike small claims courts, online settlement services can settle a dispute with any two parties anywhere in North America, instead of being limited to city or county jurisdictions.

If you have an 85% chance of settling your case, it makes sense to use an online settlement service before you spend the time and money on small claims court, where you likely will never get to trial.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

How much does small claims court cost?

Just about everyone knows that small claims court revolves around three important facts:

  1. You can only sue for a small amount. The limits vary by jurisdiction. Some small claims courts have a limit as high as US$7,500, while others might have a ceiling of just US$2,500.  There's no minimum limit. It all depends on where you live and it's a good idea to check to see where the limit is currently set in your small claims court.
  2. You can't hire an attorney to represent you. In small claims court, you show up and present your case and the other guy shows up to present his. Both of you present to the judge. It's not fun and it's not pretty.
  3. Just because you win, doesn't mean you'll collect.
One of the untold stories about small claims court is that it actually costs you a fair amount of money. While it's true that you can avoid attorney's fees, there are plenty more costs to consider:

  1. Small claims court fees: You have to pay a fee, usually to the court clerk, in order to file your case. Win or lose, you have to pay to file before anything happens. The cost probably won't exceed US$100, but it will be more than US$25, for sure.
  2. Summons service fee:  Since you're not allowed to serve the other party with a summons to appear, there's a charge to have an officer of small claims court serve the summons for you. That can run you up to $US100.
  3. Lost wages: Assume you actually do end up in small claims court for a trial. You may not fork over any cash, but you also will have to take a day off work, pay for gas, parking and other costs. Even if you earn minimum wage, that's likely to cost you another US$100.
  4. Collection: Even if you win, how are you going to get your money?  You can pay a sheriff to perform a "till take," where he literally stands at the other party's place of business and takes whatever cash comes in until he has enough to pay the judgment.  But that costs another US$100 or so.  Or you can give the judgement to a collection agency. But they'll only deliver 60% of whatever they manage to collect.
Do the math. Small claims court can actually cost you well over US$300 by the time everything's said and done. And it could take months just to get that. This is why online settlement services are a new, much more efficient way to avoid small claims court.

Online settlement services are like PayPal of small claims court. You do the whole thing online from any internet device -- for as little as US$19, total. By avoiding small claims court, you circumvent lawyers, judges, sheriffs and all the extra time and money it costs to simply get the matter over and done with.  The online settlement service handles everything for both parties, calculating an amount that both find acceptable. It's faster, cheaper and takes just a few days, as opposed to a few months, while you go about your life.

Small claims courts are great, but they're expensive. Before you file, check to see if online settlement is better and faster for you.

How to pursue a small claims court matter across the country.

Small claims court can be a good resource to resolve disputes, if you have the time, money and patience to deal with the system.  There are filing fees and costs involved with serving notice on the other party. Usually, you have to pay a sheriff or an officer authorized by small claims court to serve the other guy a summons to appear.  They don't do that for free.

But even if you're willing to pay those costs and wait months for your case to be heard, there's still one major limiting factor to small claims court that you simply can't avoid:

Small claims courts are limited by jurisdiction.

That means that a small claims court can only try cases that happen in and around the cities and counties where they're situated.  That's fine if both you and the other party reside or do business within the small claims court's boundaries. But if either one of you don't live or do business within those boundaries, you're out of luck. Especially these days, when more transactions occur over the internet, fewer of them happen right next door. They could be in the next city, county or anywhere in North America.

You can't sue parties outside your jurisdiction, because chances are the amount you're disputing is less than what a lawyer would charge you to pursue the matter.  And even if you turned the matter over to a collection agency, chances are that they only pay you 60% of whatever amount they manage to collect.

Since you can't sue in small claims court, the next best tool to use is probably an online settlement service.  The reasons are simple:

  1. Most people really do want to settle disputes. Just like you, they don't need the stress, aggravation and hassles hanging over them. They want this thing out of their lives as much as you do.
  2. Most people want to stay in business and keep their credit ratings solid.  Especially in a recessionary economy, when many people are coming out of bankruptcy, nobody wants to destroy a credit score they've worked hard to rebuild. A judgement from a small claims court or a collection agency shows up on their credit history, even if it's paid in full.
  3. If it's a business dispute, people know that one bad Yelp review can kill their reputations.  That motivates them to keep customers and associates happy, especially on the internet, where anyone, anywhere can read about it.
  4. With an online settlement service, neither of you has to show up in small claims court. Our research has shown that among the top three reasons why people hate going to court is staring down the other guy. They'll do anything to avoid it. But they will respond to an online third party who's acting in their best interest.
  5. Unlike small claims court, an online settlement service will allow them to pay their negotiated settlement amount on a credit card, which allows him to pay off his settlement monthly. Small claims court makes paying a judgement nearly impossible, requiring them to pay the whole amount by cashier's check.
  6. An online settlement service allows them to handle the matter in a convenient way, any time of day or night. Like you, they have things to do, businesses to run. They'd rather deal with these kinds of things when they're not busy or rushed.
  7. Unlike small claims court or collection agencies, an online settlement service approaches them in a non-threatening way.  It offers them an opportunity to get a discount, to make their own offer and bargain a little bit without facing any hostility.
Online settlement services are fairly new, but are highly reliable. Think of them as the PayPal of disputes. They're faster, cheaper and effective, allowing both of you to get on with your lives.

Why mediation is even worse than small claims court.

If you've ever been told that "the only way to get your money is to go to small claims court," you should know that is completely not true.  In fact, small claims court is one of the worst venues for you to settle your dispute, mainly because it's costly, it rarely works and can take months to get through the process.

And even if you win in small claims court, after months of waiting, there's no guarantee you're going to get your money. That's what they don't  tell you.

At the beginning of every small claims court session, the judge (or presiding commissioner) starts off with a lecture, advising everyone to "go out in the hallway and try to settle your dispute." If you can't settle it outside the courtroom, the judge tries to scare you when he hears the case, warning that the losing party will have the verdict applied to his credit rating even if he pays in full.

Very often, the courts suggest mediation as an alternative to trial, but be warned: many mediators are even less skilled than judges at settling disputes.  In the first place, mediators charge hefty fees for their services. Secondly, it's not in a mediator's interest to settle the matter quickly: he gets paid by the hour, so dragging out the case just makes more money for him and doesn't guarantee a good settlement for you. Finally, there's no licensing or experience required to be a mediator, which means the guy who you hire likely has no idea of what your dispute is about.

Given that small claims court (and mediation) require time off from work, there are even more costs involved. Fortunately, there are now alternatives to both mediation and small claims court.  Online settlement services allow you to file your case (usually at no cost until both parties agree to the process) and settle the case for you on terms that are much better for you. The debtor usually gets a small discount and the creditor is paid within ten business days.

Online settlement services generally produce better results because there's no mediator and no small claims court involved. You describe the matter and the other party agrees to the description. After that, the service calculates a settlement amount optimized to suit the two parties, so your chances of settling are much better.

Removing costly human mediators and small claims court judges can save you time and money. Before you file in small claims court, it's a good idea to check them out.