If you’ve been sued by a debt collector, you might be feeling overwhelmed–or even scared. The first, most important thing to do is stop panicking.
The next step is to take action. Too many people simply ignore the problem because it feels too big to face. Unfortunately, that’s just what the debt collectors hope you’ll do.
Complaint and Summons
In order to sue you, the debt collector needs to file a complaint with the county where you live. Then you’ll receive a summons. It’s important to respond to this summons in a timely manner.
At that point, you’ll be given your initial court date. Make sure you show up–we can’t stress enough the importance of going to court.
Debt collectors typically bank on the defendant failing to respond. If you ignore the issue and, ultimately, fail to appear in court to defend yourself, then the debt collector wins by default.
This is the worst-case scenario for you, but sadly it happens all too often. That’s why you need to know your rights and be prepared to defend yourself.
If you fail to show up, the court can allow the debt collector to place a lien against any property you own, garnish your wages or even seize the money in your bank account!
You might be surprised to learn that the organization suing you isn’t even the original lender. Once your account defaults, it can get purchased by a debt buyer. These companies spend pennies on the dollar to buy up bad debts and then attempt to collect. In fact, your debt could be bought and sold multiple times, which can be very confusing.
These are the folks that will send you letters and blow up your phone in the hope that you’ll settle for, say, half the amount owed. That’s a bargain for you and them. But what if you don’t pay?
That’s when you open yourself up to a lawsuit.
Should You Get a Lawyer?
If you’re already struggling to pay your debts, then hiring a lawyer will probably be way out of your budget. However, the good news is that representing yourself in a debt collection case isn’t that hard.
Again, most debt buyers hope that you’ll fail to show up in court. If you don’t show, it’s an automatic win for them.
When you defend yourself, make sure that you don’t admit any liability. It’s on the plaintiff (AKA the debt collector) to prove that you owe. Sometimes, the paper trail that shows you owe the debt will have been broken or lost as it was sold from one buyer to the next. That’s great for you!
You can also push the debt collector to prove that you own the exact amount that they’re suing over. Another strategy is to argue that the statute of limitations has already passed to collect the debt–check with your state’s laws before you try this one.