Defending yourself in court against a debt collector can be challenging. As soon as you get a summons you should verify its legitimacy and answer it quickly.
- The summons is a legal notice that your debt holder is suing you.
- There are scams that send people fake summons to intimidate them to pay, but this is rare.
- You can settle your account before it goes to court.
While you may think you can’t afford a lawyer and you need to defend yourself, you should still consult with one. They will analyze your case and make objective recommendations. If you have a good case, they may even represent you for no upfront costs.
Defending in Court Against a Debt Collector: Summons
A court summons for debt collection is a legal notice that your creditor is suing you to recover money for a delinquent account. While this may seem frightening, you need to learn your rights and act immediately. the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act protects your rights in this situation. You should get to know it.
When you get a summons don’t ignore it or wait, because you usually only have 20-30 days to respond or the court will make a default judgment against you. If that happens the collector has even more tools to collect from you, such as wage garnishment or seizure of bank account funds. In addition, you may have to pay attorney fees and court costs.1
How to Respond
How do you respond to a summons for credit card debt? Don’t admit liability. Force the collector to prove your responsibility. Often, they can’t. Your creditor bringing the lawsuit is the plaintiff and you are the defendant. You must answer the plaintiff’s summons in writing to the court. File your answer to the summons with the court clerk and ask for a stamped copy. Then send the stamped copy to the plaintiff. Your answer can include a:
- Challenge to the plaintiff’s right to sue – collectors sell debt, sometimes more than once, and things get lost. They must provide the court a signed credit agreement and proof that their documents are accurate and come from the original creditor.
- Demand for proof – The plaintiff must prove that you owe the debt, they have the right to collect, and you owe a specific amount.
Your best course of action may be to consult with an attorney. That may seem like piling more bills onto your problem, but most lawyers offer free initial consultations. He/she will review your case with you and give you objective advice on how to proceed. Often, a lawyer will take your case without any upfront cost because if they win the court may order the plaintiff to pay legal fees.
Sometimes scammers send a fake summons to intimidate borrowers into hastily paying and not considering their rights. This is rare, though, because legitimate companies can’t afford the legal problems that occur when they get caught. If you get a notice you think is fake, you should:
- Check if the clerk signed and dated the summons. It should also include the contact information for the court. Verify that this information is accurate.
- Contact the clerk with the names of the parties and the docket number. If he/she can’t find it in the records it may be fraudulent.
- Check the wording – It should include disability accommodations, the venue, and the response deadline.
If the summons doesn’t meet these criteria it may be fraudulent. However, it still may be legitimate.2
In some places, the collector can start the process without filing. It’s called a pocket service, and it won’t have a file number. In this instance, the clerk won’t be able to find a record of your case. If you think you may be the victim of a scam or unscrupulous collector don’t ignore the summons. Contact an attorney for a consultation. A lawyer will be able to tell you definitively whether it is legitimate or not.3
How to Settle Before Going to Court
It is a good idea to settle before going to court. Even if you already received a summons you should contact your creditor to see if they will negotiate. Often, they will because a lawsuit can be a long, expensive process.
It is sometimes possible to settle and pay before the court date, and your creditor will withdraw the lawsuit. Remember, though, that you only have 20-30 days to respond, so check the date on your summons. If you can’t resolve the case before then, file an answer with the clerk.
Most likely you are sued by a debt buyer. They bought your account from your original creditor or even another company for pennies on the dollar. They want to get paid as much as they can, but they must balance that against how long it will take to collect anything. In almost all cases they will negotiate because they don’t want to go to court either.4
Final Thoughts on Defending Yourself in Court Against a Debt Collector
Defending yourself in court against a debt collector begins with making sure you understand your rights and financial situation. Gather all the information you can about the account. The more documentation you have the better.
Don’t ignore the summons. Check the date and make sure you submit an answer by the required date. If you think it may be a scam, investigate the case and if you still think it may not be valid have an attorney look at it.
If you go to court, remember that they must prove that you owe them money so be aggressive. Challenge their right to sue. Push back on their claims and demand proof that you are responsible for a specific amount. Make the present documentation from the original creditor that they have the right to collect from you.
You can defend yourself, but you may not want to do this alone. Most lawyers will meet with you and honestly assess your situation. They will give you advice on what to do. If they think they will win many often will represent you with no upfront cost.