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Last Updated on: 9th September 2023, 03:43 pm
How To Answer a Debt Collection Lawsuit
Getting served with a lawsuit from a debt collector can be scary and stressful. But it’s important not to panic or ignore the lawsuit. Taking strategic legal steps to answer the complaint is crucial for protecting your rights and financial interests. This guide provides practical tips on answering a debt collection lawsuit in an effective manner.
Don’t Ignore the Lawsuit
It may be tempting to avoid the situation altogether by ignoring the lawsuit. However, this is the worst approach. If you don’t formally respond to the complaint by the deadline, the debt collector will get a default judgment against you. This allows them to garnish wages, put liens on property, and take other steps to forcibly collect.
Answering the lawsuit is critical, even if you don’t yet have a lawyer. Take immediate steps to connect with legal aid or, if possible, hire an attorney. But file your initial response personally if needed to meet the deadline.
Note the Deadline
The summons you receive provides a specific timeframe for submitting your written response. This is usually 20-30 days from when you’re served. Mark your calendar and ensure your answer will be filed by the cutoff date. Request an extension if absolutely needed.
If you miss the deadline entirely, immediately file a motion asking the court to vacate the default. Explain why the response is late and request permission to submit an answer. While not ideal, this can sometimes work to reopen the case.
Review the Complaint Details
Read the complaint closely and repeatedly. Make sure you understand who the plaintiff is, the history of the debt, the amount demanded, and the plaintiff’s justification for the lawsuit. Compare it against your own records and flag any discrepancies. These could become the basis for your response.
Also review what the plaintiff is formally requesting from the court, such as a monetary judgment or asset seizures. Know exactly what you’re defending against.
Determine Your Defense Strategy
There are various angles you could potentially take in fighting the lawsuit:
- Disputing the validity of the debt – For example, claiming identity theft or false attribution of the debt to you.
- Contesting the amount owed – Perhaps interest or fees are incorrect or exceed legal limits.
- Asserting affirmative defenses – Like the statute of limitations expiring or the collector lacking proof of claim documentation.
- Seeking a payment plan – If you owe the debt but need a reasonable schedule to repay without wage garnishment.
Decide on the approach that best fits your situation and preserves your rights. Your answer will lay the groundwork for this defense strategy.
Craft Your Written Response
Your written response, known legally as the “Answer”, gets filed with the court as an official document. It should:
- Admit or deny each specific allegation in the complaint
- Assert any applicable defenses
- Include any relevant counterclaims against the plaintiff
Ideally, an attorney will handle drafting this document. But there are resources online for templates to do it yourself if absolutely necessary. Be sure to follow all procedural rules.
File the Response
Make several copies of the completed Answer. Take the original to the courthouse and have it date-stamped by the clerk’s office as formally filed. This is proof it was submitted timely.
Send copies to the debt collector’s lawyer and retain one for your records. Follow up to ensure it reached them and is part of the case record.
Consider Settlement Possibilities
Once you’ve formally responded, the next stage is negotiating with the plaintiff’s lawyer. Many debt collection suits ultimately settle out of court. Now is the time to explore that option, from a position of strength.
Settlement terms could involve paying a lump sum, agreeing to a payment plan, or having the collector simply dismiss the suit. Get any deal in writing prior to finalizing.
Prepare Your Court Defense
If no settlement is reached, the case proceeds to the litigation phase. That involves exchanges of evidence between the parties, and possibly a trial or arbitration hearing.
Take time to organize your evidence, line up witnesses on your behalf, research legal defenses, and fully prepare your position. Consider hiring an attorney if you haven’t already.
Show Up On Your Court Date
If the case goes to trial, absolutely make sure you appear in court on the designated date. Bring all your evidence, notes, and anything else needed. If you don’t show, the collector will almost certainly get a default judgment.
Present your defense calmly, respectfully, and clearly. The judge will ultimately decide the merits of the case. Be prepared to comply with payment if the ruling goes against you.
Don’t Delay Taking Action
The clock starts ticking as soon as you receive the lawsuit summons. Begin working on your response immediately. If funds are limited, seek out legal aid services for assistance. But make progress daily and don’t allow yourself to become overwhelmed.
With the right strategic approach, you can successfully defend yourself against a debt collection lawsuit and reach the most favorable outcome possible. Just stay focused, informed, and proactive throughout the process. It takes diligence, but you can protect your rights even when sued.
Key Steps to Answering a Debt Collection Lawsuit:
- Carefully review the complaint allegations
- Note the formal deadline for responding
- Decide optimal defense strategy
- Draft the written answer accordingly
- Officially file the response on time
- Explore settlement possibilities
- Thoroughly prepare your court defense
- Appear at the hearing if no settlement
- Promptly take initial action
- Sample Answer templates: [https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/free-books/small-claims-book/chapter9-5.html]
- Statute of limitations by state: [https://www.thebalance.com/state-by-state-list-of-statute-of-limitations-on-debt-960881]
- FDCPA protections against collectors: [https://www.ftc.gov/enforcement/rules/rulemaking-regulatory-reform-proceedings/fair-debt-collection-practices-act-text]
- Finding local low-cost legal help: [https://www.lawhelp.org/]
- Court self-help resources: [https://www.selfhelpsupport.org/]
Defending against a debt lawsuit takes strategy and preparation but is very doable. With the right approach, you can achieve a fair outcome and protect your financial interests.