How to Reply to a Summons for Debt Collection

A debt collection is an unwelcome surprise if you receive a summons and complaint out of the blue. As the defendant in the lawsuit, you have the right to respond to the complaint by filing a response. Talk with an attorney first — if necessary — to devise a strategic plan for your response. You may engage an attorney to handle the entire issue or do it yourself by following prescribed steps to keep it legal.

Summons and Complaint

If you’ve got a debt that you haven’t kept current, the creditor may reach a point where he initiates a lawsuit to try to collect it. When this happens, you will get a “summons” and “complaint” to notify you of the lawsuit. The summons is your notification that you have the right to disagree in writing with the plaintiff’s complaint. The complaint is the term for the creditor’s statement to the court about the unpaid debt.

Notice of Appearance and Answer

The “notice of appearance” is your statement that you have made an appearance in the lawsuit. Your “answer” is your written response to the complaint. Filing a notice of appearance stops the judge from issuing a default judgment — the result of not answering a complaint. The notice of appearance isn’t an explanation of your position — that is the answer. You can deliver both a notice of appearance and an answer together.

Your Options

Read the summons and complaint so you understand the plaintiff’s position. You’ll also find important information there, such as the deadline for answering the complaint and where you have to deliver your answer. If you don’t deliver an answer to the complaint, the judge will proceed with the assumption that you agree and accept everything contained in the complaint. Not responding also may mean that you won’t get notification of future proceedings. If you have information to present to the judge about the complaint, you should respond with an answer.

Prepare a Response

Don’t let embarrassment or guilt stop you from responding to the complaint. Even if you owe the debt, you should still respond because it ensures that you will receive notification of future proceedings. The answer should contain the same caption that the complaint contained — the court name, county, state, plaintiff, defendant, case number and the word “answer.” Type or write the answer on standard-size paper, admitting, denying or stating that you don’t know about the validity of each statement in the complaint. Keep your answers brief and to the point; you’ll have a chance later to tell your whole story. If you have a legal defense, such as the statute of limitations expiring on the debt, state this in your answer. Sign your name, date the answer and print or type your name under your signature. Add your address under your signature.

Deliver the Response

Make two copies of the answer and notice of appearance — one to keep and one to deliver. Attach a “certificate of service” form to the original notice of appearance and answer. Deliver a copy of each document to the plaintiff or the plaintiff’s attorney before the deadline. You can hand-deliver it yourself or get a buddy to do it for you. Have the original document and your own copy stamped “copy received” with the current date to prove that you made delivery on time. If you mail the answer, make sure you drop it into the mail a minimum of three days before the deadline so the plaintiff gets it before the deadline. Send the documents certified mail, return receipt requested.

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