If you get a summons from a collection agency, that means you are one of the unlucky debtors the collector decides to sue. You cannot ignore a summons and complaint. If you write it off as just another threatening letter structured in legalese to frighten you, you'll end up facing a default judgment. A default judgment gives a debt collector the ability to take such aggressive collection action against you as garnishing your wages, seizing your bank accounts and placing liens on your home and car. Answering the collection agency summons properly is the first step in fighting the debt collection lawsuit.
Read the Summons and Complaint Carefully
On a first read-through, the summons and complaint may be confusing – especially if the collection agency's attorneys intentionally structured the documents to contain as much convoluted legal jargon as possible. If you can't understand what the document says, its better to pay for a consultation with an attorney to have him explain the summons and complaint to you than responding incorrectly.
The summons should be fairly straightforward. It notifies you that you have been sued, notes who filed the lawsuit, notes the amount of time you have to respond to the summons and complaint and gives you a date and time to appear in court. The complaint, however, should contain each of the allegations the collection agency made against you. It's the complaint you must respond to.
The vast majority of people who receive a summons ignore it, either out of fear or apathy. Of those that do respond, many respond incorrectly and don't force the debt collector to prove its case in court. You want to admit to as little as possible in the hopes that the collection agency cannot prove its case and the judge dismisses the lawsuit.
How to Answer a Summons and Complaint
You don't have to use a special form to respond to a summons and complaint. Merely go down the list of allegations and respond to each in turn, noting whether it is true, false or partially true and why.
Unless you are using an expired statute of limitations as your defense in court, you will need to deny the allegation within the complaint noting the amount of the debt you owe. You want the court to make the collector prove that you owe what they say you owe. If the only income you have is exempt from garnishment, like Social Security payments, you may want to also include this in your Answer. A collection agency may lose its desire to continue with the lawsuit once it sees that collecting a judgment afterward will prove difficult, if not impossible.
The good news here is that most collection agencies that bother to sue do so after the debt has been bought and sold numerous times. When that occurs, the likelihood of the collector having any evidence at all to back up its claims is slim to none.
Turning in an Answer to a Court Summons
After you complete your Answer, make three copies. Keep the original. Drop off one copy at the courthouse where your hearing will take place, mail one copy to the collection agency suing you and send the last copy to the collection agency's attorney. While you aren't required to send your answer to both the collection agency and its attorney, doing so is a good idea because it covers all the bases.
Your initial goal by answering the collection agency's summons should be to get the company to drop its lawsuit. Just filing a response is a good start. If the debt collector knows you are going to force it to prove its case in court and it cannot prove its case, its likely to drop the lawsuit rather than fall deeper into the hole financially by moving forward with the case.
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