Staking Small Claims

How to collect from deadbeats without making a federal case of it

Steve Chatot considers himself a winner in small claims court despite having never been in front of a judge. As the credit manager for Knapp Supply Co., a wholesaler of plumbing fixtures in Muncie, Ind., Chatot walked away happy from a half-dozen collection claims in the past year. How did he do it? The cases always settle, often during a pretrial conference with a court clerk. "Going to small claims court doesn't shut down the lines of communication," he says. Far from it--there's nothing like receiving a summons in the mail to make recalcitrant customers return your phone calls. As for cost-effectiveness, Chatot estimates it has taken no more than an hour per account to recover amounts up to the jurisdictional limits of $1,500--an impressive return on investment in anybody's book.

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