How to Sue Someone Who Owes You Money 💵

If someone refuses to pay you money owed, it’s time to file a lawsuit with small claims court.

Small claims court is a special court where disputes are resolved quickly and inexpensively.

how to sue someone who owes you money

There’s a good reason why over 4,000 lawsuits filed with small claims court in Los Angeles every day.

Small claims court keeps things simple.

This is particularly helpful for people struggling to collect money they’re owed. With that said, filing a lawsuit with small claims court still requires you to do some research, prepare your case, and follow a specific process.

Here’s how to sue someone who owes you money in small claims court …

How to Sue Someone Who Owes You Money

If someone owes you money and they refuse to pay, you can file a lawsuit with small claims court. But before you do that, you should try to work things out. If you are suing a company, make sure the right people are aware of the debt. Sometimes company communications are slow or disjointed.

You can try mediation or some other alternative to going to court. Or you can write a “demand letter” that states what is owed and that says you plan to go to court to collect the debt. Sometimes this is enough for the debtor to respond, knowing you are serious about the issue and plan legal action.

Decide if you really want to go to court. Even if you win, the court cannot collect the money for you. If someone like an acquaintance or neighbor is behaving badly, the court cannot force good behavior. And can the person being sued afford to pay you? You want to make sure you won’t be wasting your time and find yourself worse off after suing.

There is a monetary limitation in small claims court.

The maximum amount an individual can sue is $10,000. For businesses, the limit becomes $5,000.

You should make a visit to a small claims court and see how it works. Sit in on a hearing. Then, you will know what to expect. Contact the court’s small claims advisor to get advice.

If you decide to go to court, follow the steps below.

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Identify the Defendant

Naming the defendant may seem like a simple thing but it can be a very complicated issue. You have to find out exactly who it is that you are suing so you can name that party correctly on your claim. But you have to think this through.

For example, if you get into a car accident caused by another driver, you may need to sue more persons than that driver. Even if that driver were negligent, the car may be owned by someone else and that someone else may be the name on the insurance policy.

If you sue just the driver and not the owner, it may be hard for you to collect. But if you sue both driver and owner, the insurance company will probably pay for your damages.

If work is performed on your house and there is defective plumbing or wiring, you could sue the plumber or electrician. But if they worked for a general contractor, they could blame him for the wrong instructions. Suing only the trade worker will not get you the money if the court decides it was the contractor’s fault. Suing both worker and contractor is a better strategy. Then, it doesn’t matter who the court finds responsible, either or both. You can get a judgment in your favor.

The same is true if you get hurt by a defective product. You should do some research here. You might have to sue not only the store where you bought the product, but the parent company, the store chain, and the product manufacturer.

Request Payment

As mentioned above, before going to court, you have to ask the other side for payment. You can ask in person or by phone or mail. You will need to tell the court how you did this and fill out a court form to that effect. If you use a demand letter, bring a copy of that to court to show the judge.

Find the right court to file your claim

Since each county in California has a small claims court, you have to figure out which one to use. If you file in the wrong court, your case may be dismissed and you will have to file again in the correct court. There is a statute of limitations on filing, so any wasted effort can cause you to miss that deadline.

In general, you can file your claim in the court where the defendant lives or does business but there are some exceptions to this rule so you should check with the small claims court legal advisor before proceeding.

Complete the Required Small Claims Forms

There are specific forms you need to fill out to prepare a claim. The legal advisor can help with this process, too. The forms include the Plaintiff’s Claim (Form SC-100) and possibly other plaintiff or defendant forms if there were more than one of each.

File Your Claim

After filling out the court forms, you give them to the clerk of the court to file your small claims case. You will also have to pay a fee to file unless you ask for and receive a fee waiver from the court.

Bring your forms to the small claims clerk and get your court date. You can ask the clerk for a night hearing and ask for possible evenings and times. If you don’t speak English very well, you can ask the clerk to have an interpreter at your hearing – or you can bring one yourself. If you have a disability, you can ask for some accommodation.

Mark your calendar for the court appearance and make sure you show up with your papers. Missing the appointment will probably prompt the judge to dismiss your case.

“You’ve Been Served”

Someone other than you or anyone listed in your case will serve your claim to the defendant. This “Service” tells the defendant what you are asking for, when and where the trial will be held, and what they can do.

Your claim has to be served before the court deadline, served in the proper legal way, and served to the right person. There has to be a proof of service filed with the court.

There are instructions and guides on the California government website to help you with serving your claim and the other steps mentioned here.

Go to Court

You should plan what you are going to say in court. You will be explaining to the judge why you are filing a claim and what it is that you want the judge to order. Try to anticipate what the other side will say and be prepared to respond.

Take your papers that support your claim and make at least two copies of them. These papers are considered evidence and should support the main points you are making.

You should also have the Proof of Service showing how and when the other side was served. And if you have witnesses, they should be present as well. If the witnesses you want cannot or will not attend, you can fill out a Small Claims Subpoena to order them to go.

Present Your Case In Court

Try to get to court at least 30 minutes early. When your case is called, go to the front of the room and when asked, tell your story and do it quickly. These cases usually last about 10 to 15 minutes.

Explain what happened and if the judge asks you any questions, answer them directly. Do not interrupt either the judge or the other side.

After the trial is over, get a checklist of what to do after your trial.

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22 replies
  1. Daisey Gilmore says:

    Somebody borrowed 260$ from me and it’s been since March of this year, how do I get my money back. And also somebody borrowed 60$ from me how do I get my money back.

    • SFVBA Attorney Referral Service says:

      Hi Daisey,

      It may be time to explore your legal options.

      We can help you get started – Call (818) 340-4529 to speak with one of our friendly Attorney Referral Consultants, find an experienced attorney, and schedule a free consultation.

  2. Tanyetta Brown says:

    I loaned someone $800. That i really didnt have. I have a promissory note & we used to work together. Now she moved. How do i go about getting my money.

    • SFVBA Attorney Referral Service says:

      Hi Tanyetta,

      At this point, we recommend contacting a lawyer for assistance in the matter. If you’d like a free consultation to explore your options, give us a call or complete this form to get started.

  3. Aaron says:

    I wanted to buy a vehicle that was nice but was treated rudely and lied to about the car, charged a fee to hold the car….but still advertised the car, I no longer wanted to do business at that point and went to get my money back and they refused. 860$ and I was jailed because I had the car key they wanted it back but would not give me my money. So I didn’t give it to them at witch point they called it theft. But they kept saying it was my car because I submitted to buying it witch I didn’t. So how can I steal somthing that’s mine, not saying it was mine because I didn’t want it but you say it’s mine cuz u want my money but when I ask for my money back you say it’s not my key and I’m stealing. I need help I’m in the hole 1010$

    • SFVBA Attorney Referral Service says:

      Hi Aaron,

      This sounds so frustrating! Did you sign any paperwork? You may want to consider seeking legal counsel regarding theft or file a claim in small claims court.

      We can help set up a free consultation if you’re not sure where to start. For help, give us a call at (818) 340-4529 or complete an attorney request form here.

  4. Nicholas lopez says:

    So I was investing money into a co worker I work with currently. He refused to give me my money on the day I asked for my pull out (pull out means I didn’t want to invest anymore as I needed the money for a car repair costing me $3577.00to be exact) We came to agreement of me getting payed in March the 15th to be exact OR before in full (“$3,000”) to my mothers pay pal account as I don’t have one myself. I have ALL OUR messages of what we talked about and what the investment amounts were, as well as him agreeing to pay me March 15th or before. What is the maximum amount I’m able to sue him for all the time he’s wasted and stress he put me threw as I had to get a private loan to pay for my repair. (Mercedes repair) “rebuilt transmission”

  5. Londyn says:

    I work with someone and I brought some tickets off of them for a event…the tickets were no good..they said they would pay me back for the bogus tickets. They never I am wondering can I sue them and get my taking out of their check for repayment

  6. Debbie says:

    I let someone borrow over $42000.00 in a three year period. I’ve been asking for my money back. This person as moved and all I know is what city and state he lives in no physical address and only have a cell phone number. I have messages and texts stating he acknowledges owing me this much money what can I do to try to get this money back?

    • SFVBA Attorney Referral Service says:

      We’re sorry to hear about this, Debbie. We recommend finding an attorney sooner than later. An attorney will be able to assess your legal matter and provide the guidance you need.

      We can help you find a lawyer if you’re in the San Fernando Valley, California area – call (818) 340-4529 to speak with us.

  7. Ruth says:

    My ex took out a personal loan in her name. She paid $2500 towards a debt of mine and used the rest of her money for her own personal use. I have since repaid the $2500. I have proof. She says that she wants me to pay the rest of the loan because if I don’t, she will take me to court. My name is nowhere on the loan, I am not a co-signer. But she keeps claiming that if I don’t pay, she will sue me. Does she really have any legal right to do so?

    • SFVBA Attorney Referral Service says:


      Due to the amount you’ve mentioned, this will likely be handled in small claims court if anything. However, you may still want to consult an attorney for guidance to ensure you’re protected.

      If you’re near Los Angeles and you would like help scheduling a free consultation with an attorney (up to 30 minutes), we can help you. Visit our lawyer request page to find a lawyer or call (818) 340-4529 to speak with someone over the phone.

  8. Laila says:

    My ex boyfriend got 39k from me based on different stories ,one of the stories that he is investing 20k and will be giving me 1000 monthly he gave me 2000 over 2 months than he stops giving me money
    he said that if I want the 20k I notify him 2 month before ,I didn’t but he never gave me money back ,he puts me in lot of debts I had to sell my car and my bags to pay my debts off because I relied on his promise to pay me back .
    The 19k he said he is applying for a loan and to get that the bank asked 19% once he gets the loan he will give me my money back
    He never gave me the 20k neither the 19k do the total is 39K and every time I ask him he invented stories like he is sick ,he is not in the country ….
    I want to sue him but don’t know how to start

    • SFVBA Attorney Referral Service says:

      Hi Laila,

      We can help you get started. If you’re in the Los Angeles area, we can help connect you with a lawyer who can help.

      Call (818) 340-4529 and one of our friendly Attorney Referral Consultants will walk you through the process.

  9. ali says:

    My brother borrowed over £5000 to pay off his debts. since then he has paid me £200 back during the first 2 weeks but now I haven’t received anymore and he’s avoiding it.

    • SFVBA Attorney Referral Service says:

      Hi Ali,

      Disputes like this can be settled in small claims court. Hope this helps!

  10. Bryan White says:

    I am a truck driver for a owner/operator.
    She, the owner has refused to pay me my wage$1900,.
    She has made promises to pay but has not.
    What do I do.

  11. Sherit Maguire says:

    My brother is poa of my father who’s still alive .ow .y dad wants me as poa. My brother sold my dad’s house told me he’d give me 50,000 I’ve seen 4,000$so far I’m going home to see my dad that’s why I wasn’t the poa iive in Hawaii my dad n.j. hemy dad also wants me to write a living will and leave all to me. Did my brother commit larceny selling dad’s home not getting signature or even telling him. Should I write his living last will as hemy dad wishes and become poa he knows he can trust me. And what about the 50,000 my brother owes me confront him then if no money given I’ll file a lawsuit it’s actually my dad’s money right? Thanks

    • SFVBA Attorney Referral Service says:


      It’s in your best interest to contact an attorney as soon as possible. If you’re in the Los Angeles area, we can help connect you with an experienced attorney for your needs.


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