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Surviving Small Claims Court

Want your fair share? A quick guide to getting your day in court ... and emerging a winner.

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This story appears in the October 2002 issue of HomeOfficeMag.com.

So you have deadbeat customers or clients who owe you money. You've made repeated demands for payment, threatened to charge interest on the overdue debt and personally appealed to your debtors' sense of honor and fair play. Nothing has worked. They haven't paid a cent. Like they say on television, it's time to . . . take them to court!

In most cases, it isn't worthwhile to bring a lawsuit in state or federal court to collect a small amount of money (considered less than $5,000 in many states). Your lawyer alone will charge an upfront retainer of $5,000 to $10,000 to take on a new case (so-called contingency fees, based on a percentage of the judgment you win, are usually not charged in commercial or breach-of-contract cases). And then there are the court costs and the time you lose attending depositions, hearings and so forth. However, every state has a system of small claims courts you can use to collect judgments for small amounts of money ... if you have the nerve.

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