You have three basic options if you receive a summons for court… only two of them are good.
If you don’t pay an unsecured debt back as scheduled, the creditor or a debt collector has a right to sue you in civil court once it’s been charged off. When they decide to take this option, you will receive a civil summons. You will basically be served a notice that details the lawsuit. This is a civil summons.
Note: This page is intended to provide general information about a summons. Always consult a lawyer for legal advice related to your specific situation.
Step 1: Review the summons
A civil summons will tell you who is suing you and provide details about the debt. First, verify that the debt is actually yours to repay. Collectors often target the wrong person, so the first step is to make sure you actually owe the money by sending a debt validation letter. Also, check out who exactly is suing you. Is it the original creditor or a collector that purchased your debt?
Step 2: Gather documentation
The next step is to gather any documentation that you have on the debt. You want to know a few things:
- When was the last time you paid this creditor?
- When did the original debt get charged off?
- Have you already acknowledged the debt with the collector?
- Is the debt past the 10-year statute of limitations on collections?
This information will help determine how you should respond.
Step 3: Decide how you want to respond
You really have three options of how to respond to a civil summons:
- Ignore it
- Try to settle the debt
- Go to court
What you don’t want to do is ignore a summons. If you don’t show up in court, it doesn’t keep you from facing consequences. In fact, the judgment will definitely not be in your favor if you are a no-show.
The best option is usually to settle out of court
In most cases (assuming you actually owe the debt) the best option is usually to settle out of court. First, set up a formal budget so you know what you must negotiate with. Your goal is usually to settle the debt for the least amount of money possible. You may be able to set up a repayment plan and pay the settlement over time.
If the debt is still with the original creditor, then a settlement will usually require a higher percentage of what you owe. If the debt is with a collector, you may be able to get out for less.
Since you want to get the best settlement agreement possible, it’s often a good idea to work with a settlement attorney or a debt settlement company. This will help ensure you get a satisfactory result and avoid court!
Once you reach an amount that both parties are willing to accept, you will sign a formal settlement agreement. Then the creditor or collector will withdraw the lawsuit. As long as you stick to the settlement agreement, you’ll stay out of court.
Your other option is to go to court
If trying to reach a settlement doesn’t work or you decide you just want to let the courts handle it, you’ll need to answer the summons complaint. You need to answer the summons within 30 days of receiving the complaint, including holidays and weekends.
There will be a list of allegations against you within the summons package you receive. You must answer each complaint in writing and submit your answer before the date listed on the complaint.
There are three ways to answer each complaint:
- Lack of knowledge to reply
Affirming an allegation
If there is an allegation in the complaint that is true, you can simply write “admitted” or write a sentence of admission. For example, if they allege that you live at 123 ABC Lane, you could respond:
Defendant admits he/she resides at the residence listed on the complaint.
If you don’t affirm something that you know to be true, it can lead to legal complications you don’t need.
Denying an allegation
You should only deny an allegation if you are 100% sure it is not true.
You can simply write “denied” next to the allegation or write a sentence explaining your denial. For instance, if they allege that you have a credit card with Bed, Bath and Beyond, you may respond:
Defendant denies having a credit card with Bed, Bath and Beyond.
Replying “lack of knowledge”
If you’re not sure, you should reply that you have a lack of knowledge to reply.
For example, let’s say you receive a summons that says you are the cardholder on an account and that you owe $X amount of money. If you agree that you are the cardholder, but you deny that amount or think you might owe less, you would write:
Defendant affirms they are the cardholder but lacks the knowledge to confirm the other allegations within the paragraph and therefore denies them.
Submitting an admission with defense
You can also submit an admission with defense. This means that you admit, therefore, the allegation is true; however, you have a defense that you would like to present against the allegation.
Here are some examples of admission with defense:
- Defendant admits to being the cardholder of the credit card ending in 2345 but contends that there is a failure to name the essential party as they are not the primary cardholder.
- Defendant admits to the debt but asserts it was paid on this date. (You would need to specify when the debt was paid.)
- Defendant admits to being the owner of the debt; however the defendant contends that the statute of limitations in the state has run out. (You would need to specify which state your debt is in and where you are being sued.)
Tips for submitting your answer to the court
- Type out your answer, print is and then sign and date it.
- Make sure to have three copies – one for the court, one for the attorney of the creditor, and one for your records.
- You’ll need to go down to the courthouse to submit your answer to the clerk of the court.
- Be aware you will likely need to pay a fee to file.
- While you’re there, have the clerk of the court “file stamp” the other copy so when you send it to the lawyer they will know it’s been filed.
- Send one stamped response via certified mail to the attorney of the creditors.
- Although you can file an answer to a summons and represent yourself in court, it’s not advisable. You really want a state-licensed attorney to help you.