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Is small claims court worth my time?

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Sometimes, even small disagreements cannot be resolved amicably. Whether you’ve loaned someone money, are owed money or are seeking a fair resolution to a situation in which numerous complaints have been filed, small claims court could be an option for you to consider. The appeal of small claims court is that issues are resolved rather quickly and, as a result, you can collect the money you are awarded faster.

If you are considering small claims court, the following tips will help make it worth your time:

• What is a small claim? A small claim is a small financial dispute in which one party or individual has suffered some kind of monetary loss at the hands of another party or individual. These claims cannot exceed the maximum dollar value, which varies from state to state. This limit normally ranges between $3,000 and $10,000.

• Can I settle the matter myself? First and foremost, see if you can’t resolve the matter yourself. Especially if the dispute involves a friend or a neighbor, because these issues can sometimes be talked out. If talking doesn’t get you anywhere, try writing formal letters to the person or company in question. Keep copies of all correspondence for your personal records. Suing isn’t always the best answer to solve disagreements. Make sure that you aren’t indirectly causing the dispute by your own actions before you proceed.

• Is the claim cost effective? Small claims court cases are resolved quicker than regular court cases. They are also cheaper. Even if your case is slightly over the maximum dollar value, you may want to consider taking it to small claims court instead because you won’t have to spend additional money on lawyers and other court fees.

• Do I need to present evidence? As with any court case, the evidence will weigh heavily on the outcome. It is extremely important for you to gather all relevant receipts, contracts, legal documents, leases, written estimates, written agreements, paid bills and cancelled checks that are relevant to your case. Before and after photos are also effective. Be sure to present all of your evidence calmly and with confidence, and speak clearly.

• What can I expect? Small claims court hearings usually take place within a month or two after you have filed your claim. Court proceedings take 15 minutes or less. Dress appropriately. Even though small claims court cases tend to be more relaxed than regular court cases, you don’t want to give a bad impression. Be prepared — have all of your witnesses and sufficient evidence at hand to support your case.

If you do go to small claims court and win your lawsuit, be sure to ask the judge to have the defendant cover your filing fees, court costs and any other fees associated with the dispute. If not, you may end up paying out more than you get back. Remember, taking your dispute to small claims court is supposed to be worth your time not a waste of time.

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