When a bill collector files a lawsuit against you, the company is legally required to send you a summons and complaint package. The summons serves as official notice of the pending case while the complaint lists the collection agency's allegations against you. Basically, the complaint says "We're suing because you didn't pay your debt. Here's what you owe."
If you don't file an Answer with with court within the time frame specified in the paperwork, you're classified as a no-show. Fail to respond or show up in court and guess what? The bill collector wins the lawsuit by default. It can then pursue your assets through wage garnishment, bank levies, real estate liens and even, in some states, sending a sheriff to seize your personal property, such as jewelry and electronics.
Fill Out the Complaint Attached to the Summons
Before I delve too deeply into this, I have to state that every district in every state does things their own way. The basic process is the same across the board, but don't expect your summons and complaint forms to look like summons and complaint all over the country. It isn't going to happen.
The typical complaint lists each charge the bill collector made against you with the court. Next to these charges will be one of two things or both:
1. Multiple choice options for selecting whether you agree or disagree with the debt collector's claim.
2. Blank spaces allowing you to explain whether you agree or disagree and why.
If you agree with all of the collection agency's claims, returning your Answer to the court is pretty pointless. You're getting a court judgment levied against you either way at that point. If you don't agree or if you simply want to avoid the negative consequences of a court judgment from a bill collector, you must select "disagree" when given the option.
It is possible to answer "agree" to a certain claim from the collector yet disagree with another. Always be careful when agreeing to a collection agency's claims in the summons paperwork. Generally, if you disagree with any aspect of the debt collector's allegations its best to simply mark that you disagree with the claim. You can always explain your position at the lawsuit hearing.
State Your Defense When Answering a Collection Summons
While merely taking the time to fill out and file an Answer with the court lowers your risk of the lawsuit going any further (more on that in a minute), it doesn't provide you with airtight protection from a collection judgment. You must have a defense to lean on in court – provided the bill collector's case ever gets that far.
|Over time, the SOL expires|
Some defenses are better than others. Take the statute of limitations defense for example. In this defense, the debtor claims that whether or not he owes the debt is irrelevant because the state's statute of limitations for a debt collection lawsuit has already passed. Thus, any lawsuit the collection agency files based on that particular debt is illegal.
Regardless of the defense you opt for, remember to include your defense with your summons. If you do not have room to write in additional information about your defense, type out a letter noting the defense you plan to use on a separate sheet of paper and attach it to the debt collector's summons and complaint.
Answering a Summons Decreases Lawsuit Risk
When you answer a summons, it decreases the chances that you'll end up riddled with anxiety, trying to defend yourself in court against a bill collector's much more experienced attorney. The collection agency's goal, however, isn't to fight you and win – it doesn't want to fight with you at all. The company files its suit hoping that you will ignore the summons and complaint and the court will award a default judgment in the debt collector's favor.
Because most debt collectors' accounts don't complain complete information, its exceedingly hard for a collection agency to prove in court that you legitimately owe a debt. This inability to prove your responsibility for payment often makes it difficult for the bill collector to prove its case in court. This is especially true if you've taken the time to educate yourself about what to expect in court and how to walk away a winner with your finances still intact. The New York NEDAP has information regarding what rights collection agencies and consumers have during a lawsuit and how to defend yourself. I highly recommend checking it out if you receive a summons and complaint from a debt collector.
While some collection agencies will proceed with the lawsuit even after you file an Answer, few will do so if you state a solid defense you plan to use at the hearing. When you respond to a bill collector's lawsuit, the company knows that winning the case just became a good deal harder and will often withdraw the lawsuit in an effort to save time and money.